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Facebook privacy rumors spread
A rumor about changes to Facebook privacy settings is racing around the social network.
Facebook was scrambling Wednesday to quell rumors that the dominant social networking site was making private phone contacts public.
“Rumors claiming that your phone contacts are visible to everyone on Facebook are false. Our Contacts list, formerly called Phonebook, has existed for a long time,” the company posted on its Facebook page. “The phone numbers listed there were either added by your friends themselves and made visible to you, or you have previously synced your phone contacts with Facebook. Just like on your phone, only you can see these numbers.”
Despite assurances from Facebook that this rumor and another one about Facebook security changes that spread earlier this week are false, users continued to raise concerns. Like forwarded emails a decade ago, Facebook status updates with the omninous phrase “REPOST!” seem to be an effective tool for Internet fearmongering.
The latest rumor critical of Facebook showed that even Facebook was not as powerful at spreading information as its 750 million members. On Thursday morning, 15 hours after Facebook posted its message, a search of Kurrently for “facebook phone numbers” showed that members were reposting the rumor at a rate of about once every 10 seconds.
The most common warning, which was simply copied, pasted and reposted by thousands of users, “ALL THE PHONE NUMBERS of your contacts are now on facebook! go to the top right of the screen, click on ACCOUNT, click on EDIT FRIENDS, left side of screen and click CONTACTS. you will see all phone numbers from your cell phone (FB friends or not) are published that you have stored inyour mobile phone. TO REMOVE, go to the right column, click on “thispage.” please repost this on your status, so your friends can remove their numbers and thus prevent abuse if they do not want them published.”
Even Facebook’s original message that attempted to dispel the misinformation was drawing skeptical comments from members.
“I feel violated. Thanks for thieving my information that I did not enter. I only entered my cell number,” Facebook user Barry Taylor posted in response to the thread.
Others, however, retorted with a familiar argument about privacy concerns on Facebook.
“you lot make me laugh, a lot!!! you all tag everything, like everything, publish your life stories all on this social network, and then you all shout about privacy LOL,” Facebook user Marc McLean posted on the thread. “phonebook feature has been on facebook for a long time, if you dont like it, get deleting those phone numbers.”
Cindy Samuel was more blunt: “No one can see your personal number unless you are stupid enough to put it on your profile,” she posted on the discussion.
Earlier this week an older rumor started re-circulating on Facebook that the company had changed security settings so that, by default, users were no longer in secure sessions when they logged into Facebook. The most common post included detailed instructions for changing the settings to make sure members were in secure sessions when using Facebook.
That rumor, however, appears to be the rebirth of a February 2011 alert that noted the change. Still, a Kurrently search of “Facebook security” showed that members were continuing to repost that rumor as often as three times per minute on Thursday morning.
Dave Copeland is a tech reporter whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and ReadWrite. He teaches journalism at Bridgewater State University.