What happened? An irate Twitter user revealed that giving Facebook your phone number makes it publicly searchable to everyone (bit.ly/fbtw471).
Facebook prompts you to add a mobile number
Like many other sites, Facebook prompts you to add a mobile number – which not only helps you find friends, but is also used to apply two-factor authentication (2FA). This safety measure adds an extra layer of security to your online accounts by texting an access code to your phone that’s used to confirm your identity in addition to a password.
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In an alarming thread, @jeremyburge revealed that “for years Facebook claimed that adding a number for 2FA was only for security. Now, it can be searched and there’s no way to disable it”. To make matters worse, the socialmedia site is sharing that information with its other enterprises – Burge claims that Facebook 2FA numbers are also shared with Instagram, which prompts you with “Is this your number?” once you add it to Facebook.
This isn’t the first time that mobile numbers have been misused by Facebook. Last year, tech website Gizmodo reported that the social network used phone numbers to sell targeted ads.
According to Facebook’s Help guide (bit.ly/fbhelp 471), users can control who can see personal information such as phone numbers, but they may still be visible “when someone uploads your contact info to Facebook from their mobile phone”.
How will it affect you? If you’ve already given Facebook your number, log in and view your profile’s Privacy settings. Check the setting ‘Who can look you up using the phone number you provided?’ – since you can’t switch this off entirely, make sure it’s set to Friends. To get rid of any telephone number associated with your account, go to the Mobile settings and click Remove.
Two-factor authentication is a valid security measure, and we strongly suggest visiting the Security settings and switching it on. But just because Facebook wants your mobile number doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. Since May last year, the site supports third-party apps such as Google Authenticator and Duo Mobile, which generate secure access codes without sharing your number.
What do we think? After a damaging few years, which has seen droves of users desert the social network, we’re surprised anyone believed the data-guzzling Facebook could be trusted with our phone numbers. But the site’s sly means of capitalising on privacy and security fears to get hold of them is unforgivable. Users have a reasonable expectation that 2FA is only used to secure their accounts.