Last month, Facebook rolled out a plan to share users’ addresses and phone numbers with third-party app developers, as long as users consented. That plan was put on ice three days later, while the company prepared a clearer permissions system. But three days was enough time for the idea to get plenty of attention, including from the co-chairs of the House Privacy Caucuse, Reps. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who sent Facebook a letter asking for more detail about its plans. Today, Facebook’s response was made public by Markey’s office. Essentially, Facebook is moving ahead with its proposal to let app developers ask for users’ phone numbers, but promises to make it even clearer to users just what they’re handing over.
Here are Facebook’s more detailed responses to a few (paraphrased) questions from the Congressmen. Facebook’s response letter is signed by Vice President of Global Public Policy Marne Levine. The full letter [PDF] is posted on Rep. Markey’s website.
Why did Facebook do a 180 on this issue? Facebook says it rolled out the feature and then realized, based on user feedback, it could have made the “permissions” screen more clear. That’s the screen where app makers ask users for their consent to get the contact info.
Will Facebook be bringing this information-sharing feature back online? If so, when and how? Yes, Facebook says that the feature allowing app makers to request user contact info will be coming back. The company doesn’t have a set date as to when it will happen. The company is considering “additions to the permission screen” that would make the sharing notice “even clearer.”
How did Facebook come up with this idea, anyhow? Facebook’s response on this point is pretty vague, other than to say that “virtually every corner of the company” was involved. Facebook also claims it consulted with “numerous third-party privacy groups” before launching the feature.
More specifics on how the phone number and address sharing will work. A few more points from the letter: in response to a question about how it will treat minors, Facebook is considering not allowing app makers to ask teenagers for their phone numbers and addresses at all. (The restriction would only apply to teenagers, because minors younger than 13 aren’t permitted on Facebook at all.) And users who provide their contact info will be able to make sure it gets deleted when they choose. Facebook wrote that it requires app developers to delete user data upon request, and “to have an easily accessible mechanism for users to make such a request.”