Facebook and My Phone Contacts

I am an IT professional and at times am required to take online training sessions that cover all sorts of topics. Last week at work, I took an IT security course and one of the areas of emphasis was social media.

The course mentioned that one thing you could do to protect your Facebook data was to download it. I had no idea this was something that could be done. After a couple searches with Google and looking at Facebook, I performed the “download a copy of your data” function from within the Facebook website on my laptop. Description of how to do this is here.

The downloaded data is amazingly detailed and complete. It had every single post I had ever made as well as most of the pictures and videos posted and many other things. But, one thing caught my eye – the “Contact Information”. This is not a list of Facebook friends, that was also there but separate.

The “Contact Information” section was a list of the contacts on my iPhone. I did not upload this data to Facebook and I did not enable the sync feature to synchronize my contacts to facebook. Facebook friends were NOT in my iPhone contacts. So, seeing these people listed with all my Facebook data was weird. But, it got weirder the more I looked at the data. There were multiple people in my contacts where I only knew their first name and phone number. But, in my downloaded data it included their last name also. I decided to search these folks in Facebook using just their phone number and bingo- their Facebook profile, including first and last name, was found.

It seems as though this “download your data” function will grab your contacts from your phone without your permission, will then match the people based on their phone number to existing Facebook accounts and include their full name based on that lookup. Kind of cool but kind of creepy too.

After I noticed all this, I tried to disable Facebook from accessing my contacts, but I do not see any place where this is enabled (nor disabled for that matter). In Settings->Facebook, there is no indication that Facebook will access my contacts. In the Facebook app, under Friends->Contacts, I am displayed a message indicating that having your contacts sync’d in Facebook is a great thing and that I should “Get Started”. I declined getting started with that.

But wait, there is more.

Every Facebook user knows the annoying “people you may know” listing of people’s profile pictures asking you to add them as a friend. This list has completely changed for me since I downloaded my data. It now includes people that were contacts on my phone, people that I had emailed (via Yahoo mail) and people that I have sent text messages to as my only method of communication. I have 6 different email addresses configured on my iPhone. One of the email addresses is associated with my Facebook account, while the others are not associated with FB at all. I found it very interesting that Facebook now kept suggesting I be friends with a person I had emailed on one of my non-FB email accounts. She is not in my contacts. I do not have a phone number for her and, quite honestly, I did not even know her full name. I only have an email and have only communicated to her via a secondary Yahoo email account that I rarely use, but now Facebook thinks she is someone I should be friends with. Hmmm. Facebook is so smart. Too smart.

So, the “download your data” function is clearly an interesting option to get copies of your data offline and backed up onto your computer, but it is not without its drawbacks. Facebook does whatever it wants to do, does not tell you what it is doing and has almost full access to whatever data it deems ‘needed’. Be careful out there folks.

I hope to have some follow-up to this in the future because I have a lot of observations and a lot of questions, but very few answers at this point.