Fury after Facebook messes up smartphone users' address books

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Mobile, Social networks

Angry phone owner. Image from ShutterstockRemember how Facebook sneakily changed your default email address to @facebook.com?

Well, it seems that the repercussions of that decision by the social network has caused even bigger problems.

Some smartphone users, particularly those using older Android devices, are reporting that their on-phone address books have been silently updated to make @facebook.com email addresses the default way to send a message to their contacts.

See this post, for example, from one affected user on Hacker News:

"This morning my mother was complaining that many of the email addresses in her Droid Razr contacts had been replaced with Facebook ones. It would seem the Facebook app had been populating her address book with emails and contact photos, and decided to migrate all her Facebook-using contacts over to this convenient new system. That seems like a much greater controversy to me than Facebook hiding people's email addresses."

Android user's address book updated with @facebook.com addresses

In addition, there are reports from beta testers of iOS 6 that a similar problem is occurring on their iPhones. This is presumably because one of iOS 6's features is greater synchronisation for the iPhone/iPad with Facebook.

Facebook contact sync on iOS 6

Here's a simple of example of how this could go very wrong.

Imagine you're Facebook friends with Helen, and your smartphone's address book automatically syncs up with Facebook to ensure that you have the correct email address for her.

Facebook changed Helen's default email address on the site (without telling her) to an @facebook.com address.

Your phone then automatically synced its contacts with the email address that Helen's Facebook account was now displaying.

You email Helen, imagining it will go to the email account that she normally uses. Instead, it wings its way to her @facebook.com account.

Helen misses your email.

In short, Facebook's changing of users' email address to @facebook.com is one monumental screw-up.

I believe the site was trying to get more people to adopt @facebook.com email addresses for their regular communications, to make their dependence on Facebook even greater.

But they've ended up with more disgruntled users, who will be wary of the next time Facebook changes things without proper notification and without thinking of the repercussions.

If you don't want your @facebook.com email address to be displayed on your profile (and don't want it to be synced to friends' smartphones), you should change your settings.

  • Click on the "About" tab on your profile
  • Go to the section marked "Contact info" and choose "Edit"

Facebook contact info

  • Adjust the settings to choose which - if any - of your email addresses (including the new @facebook.com email address that you have been given) you would like to appear on your timeline, and who has the rights to see it.
  • Press "Save".

(You may also wish to adjust your phone's (or Facebook app's) settings to ensure that it is no longer synching your contacts. LifeHacker has published details on how to do that.)

This doesn't, of course, mean that people can no longer email you at your @facebook.com address. According to Facebook, by default anybody on the site can send you a message, and anyone on the internet can email you at your new "username@facebook.com" address.

If you don't like such a wide variety of people being able to send you messages, you will need to make further changes to your account's settings.

  • Click the account menu at the top right of any Facebook page and choose "Privacy Settings".
  • Next to the "How You Connect" heading, click "Edit Settings".
  • Select your preference from the dropdown menu next to "Who can send you Facebook messages?". Remember that "Everyone" doesn't just mean everyone on Facebook, it means everyone on the entire internet

If you want to learn more about security threats on the social network and elsewhere on the internet, join the Sophos Facebook page.

Update: Facebook has told Gizmodo that it plans to roll out a fix for the problem. However, I would still strongly recommend checking that you are happy with what email addresses (if any) you are showing on your Facebook profile, and whether you want to sync your smartphone's address book with the site.

Man yelling at his cellphone image, courtesy of Shutterstock.

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26 Responses to Fury after Facebook messes up smartphone users' address books

  1. Ips · 1157 days ago

    At least they could have notified the users about this change!

  2. Robert Wurzburg · 1157 days ago

    This is a blatant attempt by Facebook to hijack your contacts and email addresses for
    their own purposes, without your advance permision, notification nor consent.
    Facebook should be brought up on Federal criminal computer charges, like trespass,
    unauthorized access, computer tampering, etc. These are all FELONIES!
    Go for it Facebook users! Complain to your U.S,. Attorney's Office and file a complaint!

    • D.Walrod · 1157 days ago

      I so wish they would be brought down They have way to much power on the web.And people are still dumb enough to trust them.

  3. Ceridwen · 1157 days ago

    I had set the privacy settings to include only specific individuals for my actual email address. If I want to email myself from my phone - send a pic, or a link, for instance - the phone suggests my FB email, but will not suggest my own email. I've tried to add myself to my specific individuals list, but it doesn't hotlink. I would like my phone to suggest my own email addy to my own phone, so I don't constantly have to type it out on that teensy screen keyboard (I've mis-typed before) but it won't do that. It used to. Anyone know how to set myself as one of those specific individuals?

  4. decay · 1157 days ago

    ...and with Facebook's penchant for saving every byte you have ever entered or received on their site, would you want them to now have copies of every personal email communication you send/receive?

  5. D Walrod · 1157 days ago

    I would never put Facebook on my phone and this is why...You can't trust them This kind of crap will happen agin and agin..

    • Mrs. Smith · 1157 days ago

      So will improper spelling if you were never learned how to read and write. I will now take on the role of your 2nd grade teacher, YOU FORGOT THE SECOND A... TWICE. It's "AGAIN" not AGIN, that's not even a word...

      • Ray · 1156 days ago

        Get a life, troll!

      • A misspelling in a quick Internet comment warrants an all caps rant from you rather than the actual issue of this flagrant disregard of personal privacy and data integrity from Facebook?

      • Diane_D · 1156 days ago

        S/B "if you were never TAUGHT"!!! (People who live in glass houses...)

  6. Clive · 1157 days ago

    I think there is a case here for court action - appalling!

  7. Nancy Ranvandalam · 1157 days ago

    I'm outraged, now when I send a link or pic of me doing nothing really interesting to all my friends & family, my email goes to facebook & I didn't give them permission. I need to upgrade to a smarter smartphone or stop using facebook.

  8. Bill · 1157 days ago

    I won't and never will use the iPhone app for Facebook. Log in on your mobile browser. Using that app gives Facebook free reign over your ipoop!

  9. craig kensek · 1157 days ago

    Facebook doesn't get an A for permission marketing on this puppy.

  10. encryptography · 1157 days ago

    People should accept the fact that the all powerful FB now controls everything. Next comes recognizing FB as its own country given they have seized the Internet, to be followed with the FB police, courts, passport control and tax filings for its minions.

    In the USA those minions should probably file complaints with the FCC before the FB TOS states they are not allowed to do so.

  11. This is all. · 1157 days ago

    People still send emails? I thought those were so taken over by spam and instant African millionaires that nobody uses it anymore. I couldn't tell you the last time I did, or one of my friends sent me something... I'm in my 30's, not some old dinosaur or anything, and we all message eachother on FB or actual text. I can see what ur all so upset about, privacy...FB making changes... blah, blah, blah... ooooh, it's all so scary, but I wonder how many of you actually know how to use FB, or it's privacy settings... or your smartphones, properly? I have last years Xperia Arc, and it came preloaded with FB, I have already claimed my FB email, although I've never used it, I have synced my phone with FB and NONE OF MY CONTACTS EMAILS WERE CHANGED! I just double checked to be sure and they're all still hotmails and gmails addresses. Stop hanging onto your old phone and embrace life. Stop getting your panties in a bunch because FB has made changes. If you don't like the site or what they do, leave. Nobody's forcing you to stay. You're just ruining it for the rest of us who have a clue, no how to work the site, and like our smartphones. Mkay?

    • Briny · 1156 days ago

      I have a clue, that's why I left FB last year. They can keep claiming programming mistakes all they want. Those with a clue know criminal behavior when they see it.

      I never thought that anyone could make lawyers look good. Mark Zuckerberg has done just that. Speaking of which, it's time this garbage was sued into oblivion.

    • This is not merely a case of people whining about change and not understanding their settings - it is clear that Facebook is engaging in behaviour that is both damaging and unwelcome, changing things without notice or consent, and at their very best they can merely claim gross incompetence. Many doubt these things are all mistakes, but either way, it is perfectly legitimate to complain about Facebook hijacking users' email and personal contacts, regardless of whether you, personally, don't bother using email much any more. I hate to be rude, but is it really that hard to understand that some people might do things differently from you? Your attitude here is needlessly derisive.

  12. Eric · 1157 days ago

    As much as I'm not a fan of many Facebook policies, and thus have limited my Facebook use in order to protect my privacy, I'd say that Facebook isn't the party to blame here. The folks to blame are at Google or at your phone carrier, who in the latest versions of the Android operating system and its default settings have made it difficult to effectively dis-integrate Facebook with the phone contacts. Integration has its advantages, but it also has its price.

    With my wife's phone, she had a problem with the contacts being populated by Facebook contact data, which she didn't want. The solution was to use Seesmic (there are other third-party Facebook apps too) as the Facebook app rather than the official Facebook app (which was disabled by deleting the Facebook password). With my phone, I intentionally access Facebook only via browser.

    As I see it, Facebook is entitled to set its own policies for default email addresses and the like. Its decisions can affect you outside of your Facebook world only if you let it.

    • Ray · 1156 days ago

      You've clearly got no clue.

      The Facebook app, when installed on your phone, asks you when you first open it whether or not you want Facebook Contacts to sync. If you select Yes, you're stupid - as straight away you put the control of your contacts in Facebook hands.

      As for phones powered by HTC Sense (for example) where Sense has Facebook integration to same degree, it's very easy to turn that off. You can't remove the Facebook integration (at least not easily) but you can stop/prevent it from syncing.

      Get a clue next time before throwing the blame at Google or manufacturers. I'm not sure why on earth you think the carriers are involved.

      At the end of the day, it's the users choice. Most users don't bother to read or check what settings they accepting - it's simply just hit next, next, next, confirm until it works. When something goes wrong, lets blame everyone and everything else instead of their ignorant self.

      On that note, I'm not excusing Facebook from making the changes they did and not notifying users. I hate Facebook - can't stand them. They have way to much power and don't give two sh**s about their users or their privacy. One day people may wake up and realise this but I think by that time it will be too late.

  13. Jerseyman · 1156 days ago

    Just tried to amend my f/b contact info as detailed above but I cannot find what is listed;

    Click on the "About" tab on your profile
    Go to the section marked "Contact info" and choose "Edit"

    Please clarify for those amonst us are not heave f/b users!

    • GoMay · 1147 days ago

      just goto your profile click on your email option and it'll list your email accounts .. i just deleted the FB email address

  14. jim · 1156 days ago

    Why is it that if I was to do something like this, I'd be a hacker and subject to arrest. FACEBOOK does it and it's "marketing"???????

  15. wolsonjr · 1156 days ago

    Just one more reason why I won't touch Facebook or anything similar

  16. Charlie · 1099 days ago

    Does any body know how to remove the @facebook email all together?

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog at https://grahamcluley.com, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley