Oops, they did it again. Facebook is involved in yet another privacy kerfuffle -– this time for something the company did way back in January 2010.
The little-known Facebook Contacts list (formerly called the Facebook Phonebook) is suddenly getting a lot of attention, thanks to rumors that have been spreading across the social network like kudzu.
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What Facebook Contacts does, simply, is list in one handy place the names and numbers of all your friends who have made their phone numbers public. If you've ever coughed up your mobile or desk number to Facebook and made it available via your privacy settings, all your Facebook friends now have it, and vice versa.
(It's easy to see: Log into Facebook, go to Accounts, and then Edit Friends. Click "Contacts" and you'll see exactly which of your Facebook posse have shared their numbers.)
But if you've ever used Facebook on your mobile phone, it also reaches into your handset and grabs all those numbers -- including people who are not on Facebook, like your doctor or the burrito joint down the street –- and uploads them to your Contacts.
Facebook then tries to match the phone numbers in your phone to Facebook profiles that display the same number. And sometimes it gets it wrong, so total strangers show up in your Contacts list.
The rumor that got everyone freaked was that your phone book is open and available to everyone on Facebook. That isn't true. Only you can see your own phone book. But any of those numbers whose Contact Info privacy settings is set to "everyone" is visible to everyone on Facebook.
What's the problem? A few things: