I decided I should prepare you for what is to come. You’re already seeing (hence my title – you can read more here), and will see over the coming weeks a hailstorm of critique, saying Facebook is sharing your phone numbers and addresses with third party sites and applications. Huffington Post’s (see the link above), and I predict many others to come, are, and will be absolutely incorrect. The truth is 1) we don’t know exactly what Facebook is going to do (and hence it’s too early to freak out anyway), and 2) we do know Facebook isn’t going to just share your phone numbers and addresses with 3rd party sites. Huffington Post makes this sound like they’re giving it away like candy.

Here’s what will likely happen:

  • Facebook will require 3rd party websites and applications to prompt users before they can access any information about you. This includes your phone number and address, and means websites and applications can’t just get this information WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION.
  • Facebook will prominently display a warning when an application or website is trying to get your address or phone number, and you will be completely aware your address or phone number could be used by the application. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO GIVE AWAY YOUR ADDRESS OR PHONE NUMBER, DON’T GIVE ACCESS TO THE APPLICATIONS THAT ASK FOR IT.
  • There is also rumor that Facebook will be preventing minors from being able to give away their phone numbers and addresses to 3rd party applications and addresses. This is something only Facebook can do, unless a minor is posing as an adult – unlikely.

Let’s set the record straight. FACEBOOK IS STILL THE MOST PRIVACY FOCUSED WEBSITE FOR CONSUMERS ON THE PLANET RIGHT NOW. They will be even more so after this feature. What’s the other option? Applications can ask you to manually type in your address and phone number each time you log in. If you’re okay with that experience, maybe you shouldn’t approve applications to have your phone number and address. Heck, maybe you shouldn’t be on Facebook in the first place – at least Facebook is trying to make that process easier.

In the case you choose not to be on Facebook, be especially careful – Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Google Contacts, and even financial services like Paypal don’t even offer this level of granularity. If you give them access, 3rd party websites get access to all your information, phone number, address, and all. In fact, for many of those services I listed, not only do you give your own address and phone number, but you give your friends’ addresses and phone numbers as well. Facebook doesn’t even allow that.

So I caution you over the next couple weeks – don’t believe the sensational headlines. Be prepared to stand up for your privacy. Facebook’s next move makes things more private, yet accessible, not less. At the same time fight that Gmail, Google Contacts, Yahoo, Paypal, and others all offer this level of granularity to 3rd party websites. At least Facebook is doing something about it.

For more background, be sure to read Facebook’s post where they phased this out in preparation for a better version here.