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Facebook halts phone number sharing feature

facebook_contact_info.top.jpgFacebook's feature would let app makers request access to your phone number and address. By Laurie Segall, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Facebook is temporarily disabling a feature that gave app developers access to some of the most sensitive personal data it possesses: Members' addresses and phone numbers.

The company had slipped the feature in quietly, announcing it at the end of last week in a post on its developer blog. But late Monday, Facebook said it is suspending the feature until it can fine-tune how it works.

"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," Facebook wrote on its developer blog. "We agree, and we are making changes to help ensure you only share this information when you intend to do so."

Those changes will roll out "in the next few weeks," Facebook said. In the meantime, it has suspended the phone number and address gathering option.

In its blog post last week describing the new feature, Facebook said members would need to explicitly grant permission for apps to tap into their contact information. And they would only be able to grant that permission for their own data -- users can't choose to allow access to their friends' contact information.

But worries immediately arose that this would not be enough of a shield. Facebook frequently comes under fire for its constantly changing privacy policies, and many users find the tools it makes available for adjusting privacy settings very confusing.

Privacy researcher Christopher Soghoian thinks Facebook botched the message by publicizing the change on its developer's blog.

"They should have had an announcement: 'This is why were doing this, and is why it's not a privacy problem,'" he says.

The blog Inside Facebook, which obsessively tracks news about the social network, also said the new addition didn't provide users with enough context.

"The biggest problem with access to contact information is that the permission requests for these highly sensitive data fields are not distinguished from requests for more benign data like a user's Event RSVPs or privileges like publishing to their stream," Inside Facebook writer Josh Constine said.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been vocal about his view that information wants to be shared.

Last May, in the wake of multiple privacy flare-ups, he described his approach in a Facebook blog post.

"When we started Facebook, we built it around a few simple ideas. People want to share and stay connected with their friends and the people around them. When you have control over what you share, you want to share more," Zuckerberg wrote. "When you share more, the world becomes more open and connected."

Facebook's terms of service prohibit app makers from transmitting the data they collect to outside parties, but those policies have been violated before. Facebook came under fire last year when San Francisco-based marketing company Rapleaf gathered Facebook IDs from apps and sold those IDs to advertisers. To top of page

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