A few weeks ago, a disturbing article by Kashmir Hill at digital media site Fusion prompted me to remove my phone number from my Facebook account. The article describes the way Facebook (FB) may be using your phone’s address book to recommend new friends to other users.
Like many well-meaning tech product features, this seems innocent enough—until you encounter examples where it’s not. In this case, Facebook was recommending a psychiatrist’s patients add one another as friends, possibly because they all had the psychiatrist’s phone number as a contact, even though none of them were even friends with her on Facebook.
Since I’ve removed my phone number, every single time I open the Facebook app on my smartphone, I get a message asking me to add it back for security purposes. (In fine print—to find friends and get alerts too!) I can’t permanently opt out. I will continue to get this prompt until Facebook badgers me enough that I give up and add it back. It’s a grim reminder that with all of the amazing, wonderful, free web products we can’t live without, we’re choosing convenience over privacy, every single day.
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Yesterday Facebook announced that its Messenger app (remember, the thing the company made 1 billion of us begrudgingly download?) now accepts payments. It seems innocent enough. Lots of people have already given Facebook Messenger their debit card information to send and receive money with their contacts. Why wouldn’t they want to conveniently pay for things like flights and button-up shirts through a seamless, easy-to-use app?
Still, I was reminded of badgering prompts to add my phone number back. Once Facebook has our payment information and purchase history, hold onto your hats. The privacy landmines seem obvious and plentiful. I want to believe the company will be responsible with this information. But there are already so many other examples where it’s not.