July 3, 2012

Breaking News Which Shocks No One: Facebook Addresses Privacy Concerns

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

There´s an old Dilbert cartoon strip wherein Dogbert attempts to create an always-accurate newspaper that readers only need to buy once. This one-time-only newspaper included stories which are always true, like “Pope speaks out against violence,” and “American´s angered by higher taxes.” It´s an interesting–and incredibly fictional–idea, though I´d like to add a headline to this “All You Need Is One” publication: “Facebook addresses privacy concerns”.

Last week, Facebook committed its latest blunder when it automatically hid each of a users´ email addresses, except for their own @facebook email address. This move was seen as a rather lame way of forcing Facebookers to use the social giant´s email service rather than their preferred account.

Now, as they face more scrutiny and criticism, Facebook has offered a simple explanation for their seemingly heavy-handed email persuasion: It´s not us, it´s you.

The social networking king is now saying that those who have raised complaints about their new email system simply don´t understand how they´re organizing the messages and contacts. Adding to the trouble, some users have even noticed that Facebook has gone into their mobile phones and changed their contact´s information, removing the original email address and changing it to the @Facebook account. According to, Facebook engineers are looking into this issue.

“By default, messages from friends or friends of friends go into your Inbox. Everything else goes to your Other folder,” writes Facebook spokeswoman Meredith Chin in an email to Red Write Web. “That is likely where the messages are being sent from other people's emails. Even if that person is friends with them on Facebook, if the friend doesn't have that email on their Facebook account, the message could end up in the Other folder.”

Part of their new changes included hiding every email address you´ve ever given Facebook, leaving only your @Facebook account visible. The intention, it seems, was to present users with a clean slate with email, allowing them to make visible only those addresses they chose.

In a Newtonian twist of fate, this “hiding” of every email address–with the exception of any @Facebook address–had some long-lasting consequences on some users´ mobile phones. Facebook´s Contact Sync keeps the contacts on your mobile phone up-to-date with whatever information is listed on Facebook. As such, whenever Facebook hid these email addresses, it set about a chain reaction, deleting email addresses in users´ mobile phones, replacing them with that pesky @Facebook email address.

To fix this problem, users simply need to log into their Facebook account and unhide any email address they want visible. Then, each of your friends who use Contact Sync will have your actual, preferred email address. Unfortunately for Contact Sync users, until each of your friends manually unhide their email addresses, you´ll only see their @facebook address. That is, of course, unless you have their email address committed to memory.

As Facebook handles several privacy concerns a year, it´s easy to wonder how many more missteps it will take for users to begin to slowly back away from Facebook and its services. Though convenient in theory, the usefulness of Contact Sync in practice is diminished by the fact that Facebook can simply flip a switch and delete personal data on your mobile devices.