Facebook is facing yet another scandal involving data privacy. Users have recently been complaining of an unannounced change within the way Facebook stores phone numbers enrolled as part of its two-factor authentication process.
They report that Facebook is associating numbers with accounts. Worse yet, anyone can input a number and use to look up someone's profile. Worst of all, however, is the fact that there's practically no way to opt-out.
Facebook Phone Number Scandal
This comes a year after Facebook was forced to admit that after months of pestering its users to switch to two-factor authentication by submitting their phone number, it was also using those numbers to target users with ads. Most users are finding out just now that the default setting allows everyone — even those without a Facebook account — to pull up a profile based off the phone number they submitted.
The scandal broke after Twitter user Jeremy Burge tweeted on March 1 about Facebook's practice, and shortly thereafter it became viral.
"For years Facebook claimed the adding a phone number for 2FA was only for security. Now it can be searched and there's no way to disable that," wrote Burge. "Facebook 2FA numbers are also shared with Instagram which prompts you 'is this your phone number?' once you add to [Facebook]."
Burge called it a way for Facebook to generate "a unique ID" and leverage it toward "[linking] your identity across every platform on the internet."
Facebook gives users the options to hide their phone number from their profile so no one can see it. However, there are other ways of looking up people on the platform even if they don't make their details public, such as this one. In this manner, every Facebook account tied to a phone number is searchable to "everyone" by default, or to "friends or friends" or just "friends." There is no way to avoid being search based off one's number completely.
Although using the concept of security to maneuver a privacy-breaking move is in and of itself highly unethical, it's something not far off the list of things Facebook has done and can do. After all, if it was willing to hide the fact that Cambridge Analytica got hold of highly sensitive data from a whopping 87 million accounts, and only publicized it when reports started coming out, anything is within the realm of possibility, ethical or not.
In response to the phone number scandal, Facebook spokesperson Jay Nancarrow told TechCrunch that such settings "are not new," and that "the setting applies to any phone numbers you added to your profile and isn't specific to any feature."