Facebook Plans to Permit Developer Access to User Phone, Address Info Move Forward

In a letter, Facebook said it is considering enhancements to its privacy permissions screen to ensure users know when they are sharing their data.

In a letter to two U.S. congressmen (PDF), Facebook reaffirmed its plans to enable application developers to get access to user phone and address information.

Facebook initially implemented the idea in January, but scuttled the change after a few days due to public outcry. At the time, Facebook Director of Developer Relations Douglas Purdy stated it would work on a way to "make people more clearly aware of when they are granting access to this data."

In response to the situation, Congressmen Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) requested information regarding the company's plans. On Feb. 23, the congressmen got their answer in the form of a letter from Marne Levine, Facebook's vice president of global public policy.

"We expect that, once the feature is re-enabled, Facebook will again permit users to authorize applications to obtain their contact information...we are assessing potential additions to the permissions screen that would appear when an application requests a user's contact information, to determine whether those additions would provide even clearer notice to users regarding the information the application is requesting," Levine wrote.

Levine added that the company has not yet determined when or in what manner the permission feature will be rolled out. Among other things, the company is considering whether to prevent applications from requesting contact information from minors.

Facebook did not respond to eWEEK's request for additional comment before publication. However, the company has said in the past that the idea behind the move is to make applications more efficient.

"For example, a frequently used e-commerce application or Website is better when it has your address stored for a faster checkout, and an airline can serve you better if it has an always-up-to-date mobile number to reach you for last-minute itinerary changes," a Facebook spokesperson explained in January.

Mobile phone numbers and home addresses, particularly those that can identify teenagers using Facebook, require special protection, Markey said in a statement.

"We must ensure that this sensitive information is safeguarded, with clear, distinct permissions so that users know precisely what's in store when they opt to share this data with third parties," he said. "Moreover, simple, easily accessible tools are needed so users can rescind these permissions if they subsequently find they no longer want their information in the hands of third parties."