NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Facebook refuted claims Thursday that it makes public the phone numbers stored on users’ cellphones, shooting down a rumor that had spread online earlier in the week.
The privacy concern stems from a feature on Facebook’s mobile application that lets users sync their smartphone contacts with their contacts on the social networking site. What many users apparently did not realize is that the site also uploads all the phone numbers from their cellphone to a special phonebook page on their Facebook accounts.
The phonebook feature itself is nothing new: When Facebook launched the page several years ago, it originally just collected all the phone numbers that your friends posted to their own profiles and listed them all in one place. More recently, the site added contacts from your cellphone to the list if you chose to sync with Facebook, effectively creating a more comprehensive digital address book.
But on Wednesday, rumors spread that the entire contact page was publicly viewable by other users, meaning that anyone might be able to check your phonebook page and find numbers to call your Facebook friends and family members, and even friends who were not on Facebook at all. Many users updated their status with the following response to Facebook:“ALL THE PHONE NUMBERS IN YOUR PHONE are now on Facebook! No joke - go to the top right of the screen, click on Account, then click on Edit Friends, go left on the screen and click on Contacts. All phone numbers are published. Please repost this on your Status, so your friends can remove their numbers and thus prevent abuse if they do not want them published."
For many users, it probably came as a surprise to find out that all their friends’ phone numbers were stored in one place online, as this feature has not been highly publicized before. But as Facebook has since explained, each user can only see their own phonebook page. It is not made public to others on the site.