Facebook Suspends New Address and Phone Sharing Feature

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Facebook is learning that it may need to move more slowly and more thoughtfully as it pushes users to share more sensitive information. Just three days after introducing a new feature that allows users to share their mobile phone number and address with applications and third-party websites, Facebook said late last night that it is suspending the change as it works to clarify the permission process.Facebook plans on re-enabling the feature in the next few weeks after it works out how to more clearly educate people on the data they’re sharing.

“Over the weekend, we got some useful feedback that we could make people more clearly aware of when they are granting access to this data. We agree, and we are making changes to help ensure you only share this information when you intend to do so,” wrote Douglas Purdy, director of developer relations on the Facebook developer blog.

The move suggests that Facebook is learning that it needs to tread more carefully with user information and is being more responsive to privacy concerns. Facebook introduced the change on late Friday night, making a user’s address and mobile phone number accessible as part of its User Graph. The change would expose a person’s contact information to a third-party developer but would not release a user’s friends’ information. Facebook said the new feature would allows users to easily share their address and mobile phone in order to streamline the checkout process at a shopping site or obtain timely mobile alerts on special deals.

But the update touched off concerns that the permission system did not do a good enough job in explaining how much sensitive data was about to shared. In a worst-case scenario, some worried the new feature would further enable rogue applications to spam Facebook users and could prompt potential identity theft.

Now, Facebook is backing away from the move until it can come up with a better approach to this change. It may not be anything significant but it could represent more steps in the permission flow to highlight the sensitive data being shared. Right now, a lot of Facebook users blindly click through the permissions, something some developers can take advantage of. As it moves to make more information available, it makes sense for Facebook to go out of its way to ensure that its users are fully aware of how much access they’re granting third-party apps and websites. It not only protects those users but it signals that Facebook is concerned about its users’ privacy, something many are not quite convinced of. We’ll know in a few weeks if Facebook is actually taking a more thoughtful approach to information sharing and its permission system, or if it’s just waiting for some of the latest controversy to die down.

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