Late on Friday night, Facebook published a short blog post, announcing the opening up of users’ personal contact details to app developers. But why?
The news will certainly have brought a smile to the one million-strong Facebook developer community, who still go through none of the same strict vetting processes as Apple enforces upon developers trying to launch a product in its App Store.
This lack of vetting has given rise to ‘rogue apps’, which exist to post spam links to users' walls, point users to survey scams that earn them commission - and sometimes even trick users into handing over their mobile numbers to sign them up for a premium rate service, according to IT security firm Sophos.
The addition of users’ phone numbers and home addresses (where available) into this mix of data available, once a user downloads an app, can only help rogue apps succeed with greater effect.
Although Facebook, by all accounts, is quite speedy about removing rogue apps from the site, once they have been reported.
A Facebook spokesman issued the following statement: "Developers can now request permission to access a person’s address and mobile phone number to make applications built on Facebook more useful and efficient.
"You need to explicitly choose to share your data before any app or website can access it and no private information is shared without your permission. As an additional step for this new feature, you're not able to share your friends' address or mobile information.”
As expected the company has stressed that third party app developers will only gain access to this personal information, if the user agrees to give make it available when downloading the app. But the spokesman failed to explain why the change has even happened at all.
However, the problem is that many users don't bother reading the small print, when downloading a Facebook app, and just click the accept button without thinking of the consequences, according to Graham Cluley, a technology consultant at Sophos.
But why has Facebook even made this change in the first place?
Cluley thinks it is about Facebook sharing an increasing amount of valuable data with third party companies.
“This move is all about Facebook wanting to share more customer data with the world, which is very valuable to both developers and advertisers alike.
"However, by doing it in this way, where the user, often unaware of what they are signing up to, agrees to make this information available, Facebook can get away with it without getting their hand slapped. Right now Facebook is not obliged to force its users to understand what they are signing up to.”
However, Felix Cohen, a consultant from Headshift, a technology and social media consultancy, thinks this could be precursor to a new revenue stream for Facebook.
“I think Facebook is trying to develop a revenue stream for the future, which will revolve around sharing its most valuable asset: consumers’ data. It has made it very clear that it will never launch a subscription service, so while people are not paying with money for the service, they will have to pay with their data instead. Facebook needs to go beyond its advertising model in order to live up to its large [$50bn] valuation and make vast amounts of money.”
Analysts are not sure why Facebook has made this change now but are concerned about what unvetted third party developers will do with the additional information.
Sophos is advising Facebook users to remove their addresses and phone numbers from Facebook immediately and to review their Facebook privacy settings.