This Week’s Thoughts: Facebook and Privacy

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Not a single week is passing without talks about privacy problems at Facebook. Not surprising, as the problems happening don’t have to be big ones — privacy problems can arise even when everything works smoothly, from Facebook’s viewpoint. Worldwide, more than 400 million people are registered at Facebook. And all of them deliver data 24/7 to the U.S.-based social network — sometimes even without wanting to, and sometimes even data about friends or relatives that do not know about it and do not want it to happen.

Facebook for mobile phones

For a while, Facebook has been spreading on cell phones, too. On the Facebook homepage, using it on your mobile phone is recommended, regardless which model you are using. On modern mobiles, Facebook does look really good — and is fun. You can reach nearly all important features and keep in touch with your Facebook friends while you aren’t at home. Generally, contacting Facebook or other social networks while being on the way is okay. It can even be fun.

Comfortable, yet not harmless

The problem is: Your mobile phone might send more data to Facebook than you want to — and than you are aware of. This is because Facebook offers a “Synchronize” feature. Sounds comfortable: You can link all contacts, that is, all names, addresses and phone numbers stored in your cell phone, with your Facebook account and thus make them available everywhere. But that is where you might run into problems: By doing this, you transmit the phone numbers and names of all your friends, colleagues and relatives to Facebook. And Facebook will store these data, regardless whether the people are registered or not.

Watch out while “synchronizing”

Take a closer look: You will find a note in your display informing you that you should only use this feature if all contacts, that is, all your friends, have agreed. To be honest: I don’t know anybody calling all friends stored in their mobile phone to get to know whether they want it and agree. But Facebook moves the responsibility towards us. So: Watch out while using the “synchronize” feature with your cell phone — or just don’t use it at all. Once the names, mail addresses and phone number data are submitted, you are not in control of them anymore.

Data collection mania at Facebook

However, you have to be watchful even if you are not using Facebook on your mobile. Facebook promises to help you find your friends. Sounds tempting. So, many people accept the offer to get their contacts uploaded. Facebook is interested in everything: may it be e-mail addresses or instant messaging, Facebook takes everything. Thus: be on the look out here as well.

Potential new members — free delivery

That is how Facebook’s address database continues to grow. Facebook gets to know more and more people, even those that have never registered at Facebook before. The network grows and grows … Facebook increases its knowledge about who knows whom, who is in contact with whom, and can suggest friends. This way, tons of data are sent to Facebook — with free delivery for the company. Doesn’t have to be like that, in my opinion.

Check your profile

You want to check which contacts are stored within your own profile: Click “Edit Friends”, then “Phonebook”. A list of all so-called friends is displayed, including contacts from your mobile phone’s address book. And if you want to view if Facebook has already sent invitations on your behalf: You can check that too, with the feature “View all invitations”.

User data without consent

Privacy advocates consider it problematic when a Web service like Facebook gets hold of user data without having their consent. Primarily, Facebook should make everything more transparent. And everybody who does not want to register at Facebook should get a way to remove his or her data from the database permanently. This feature does not exist. Yet.

Use privacy settings

It is useful to check your privacy settings in Facebook. They exist for contacts as well. Here, you can control in detail what friends or strangers can get to know about you. It is worth the efforts to check every single setting — and edit it, if needed. You can take a close look at what should be visible, and what shouldn’t. You can even control which details about you are displayed in a search result.

I like to share news with friends, colleages and other people in social networks. What I do not like is the missing transparency and the self-service mentality regarding personal data. This is where something has to happen as soon as possible.


  1. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  2. Thanks for the detailed information! Everything is clear and understandable. Everybody will be able to use the info for his/her benefit following the provided guide!

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