LinkedIn, Facebook Upset Users With Latest Updates
UPDATE: LinkedIn has responded to users' concerns. See the end of this story for details.
LinkedIn and Facebook are drawing unwanted attention to themselves for uploading two things that their users had assumed would be kept private.
In LinkedIn's case, the business-networking website now reserves the right to use any member's name and photo in ads. Facebook has been extracting members' contact lists directly from their smartphones and uploading them to its servers.
Both privacy violations have been occurring for months, right under your nose, and both were only discovered yesterday by irate members who began emailing and messaging friends.
The feature, which is set to "on" by default, the security firm Sophos reported, was explained in a 6,400-word press release, or as Sophos' Paul Ducklin put it, "about 10% of the length of a respectable novel."
If you object to your name and photo being plastered on the site and used as advertising fodder, you can opt out by selecting "Settings" under your name on LinkedIn's homepage, choosing "Account," then "Manage Social Advertising," and then unchecking the box labeled "LinkedIn may use my name, photo in social advertising."
In Facebook's case, the privacy infringement could put your cellphone number in the hands of strangers.
A message began spreading around Facebook yesterday alerting account holders that Facebook holds a cache of many users' entire mobile-phone contacts lists.
The message read: "WTF FACEBOOK! ALL THE PHONE NUMBERS IN YOUR CELL PHONE are now on Facebook. No joke."
It's true, though it may only work for people who've installed an official Facebook app on their smartphones.
From a computer, click on "Account," then "Edit Friend," and then "Contacts," and there they are the phone numbers of everyone from your cellphone's contact list, whether they're your Facebook friend or not.
Facebook uploaded the contacts lists as a way to enhance security and provide an "alternative contact point which could be used to regain access" to your account, Sophos explained.
Facebook responded to the accusations from users who felt their trust had been breached.
On its blog, Facebook wrote: "Rumors claiming that your phone contacts are visible to everyone on Facebook are false. Our Contacts list, formerly called Phonebook, has existed for a long time. The phone numbers listed there were either added by your friends themselves and made visible to you, or you have previously synced your phone contacts with Facebook. Just like on your phone, only you can see these numbers."
This isn't entirely correct. Yes, Facebook has been posting your phone number for "a long time," and, yes, only you can see these numbers. But look at the list and you should see names and numbers of people who don't even have Facebook accounts.
Next to these names and numbers, Facebook provides the handy option to either invite these people to Facebook, or add them as friends.
Thankfully, there is a way to remove other people's cellphone numbers from the list by disabling the feature from your mobile phone. Instructions can be found here.
Both of these social networking slip-ups highlight a much larger issue: Although LinkedIn and Facebook are both touted as free, users must realize that they pay for the services in a different and much more invasive way.
Social networking sites make their money in advertising, and you as a user are their most lucrative asset. The more data they have on you, the easier it is to turn page views into dollars.
Sure, you can disable these settings to remove your photo or contact list so you'll no longer see it. But don't be fooled: Just because your information isn't visible, doesn't mean Facebook or LinkedIn isn't still using it to make a quick buck.
UPDATE: LinkedIn responded quickly to the complaints, and is changing the way its social ads look to no longer include members' photos. In a blog post today, (Aug. 11), LinkedIn's Ryan Roslanksy apologized for not communicating the company's policy regarding social ads more clearly, and wrote, "Our core guiding value is Members First. And, with regards to the social ads we've been testing, we're listening to our members."