In its ongoing attempts to fix its privacy standards, Facebook will no longer use phone numbers to determine who one sees on their "people you may know" list, according to Reuters. The move is an attempt by the company — which has been dogged by privacy scandals for years now — to correct misuses of peoples’ data.
When it was revealed last year that Facebook was using peoples’ personal phone numbers for two-factor authentication for advertising, privacy advocates were outraged, saying that the company had eroded trust in one of the largest digital communication tools. While Facebook stopped using the phone numbers for advertising purposes earlier this year, it has now announced that it will no longer use them for friend suggestions, either.
The news comes after Facebook’s $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which ruled that Facebook had to update its privacy standards to better protect peoples’ personal information. Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Michel Protti said that the company would be rolling out the changes in Libya, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Cambodia this month, and in the rest of the world in 2020. He added that, from now on, no one who signs up for Facebook will have their phone number connected to their friend suggestions.
While those already using two-factor authentication would not be affected, they have the ability to de-link their phone numbers for friend requests. A company spokeswoman said that the move to disengage the phone numbers from advertising was done automatically for every user.
Protti said the updates to the security system were closely evaluated, and that more layers of process and vetting were implemented for the future. However, according to some, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Associate Director of Research Gennie Gebhart, the process didn’t seem like enough. Gebhart said she hopes for more transparency from Facebook in the future on exactly what it is reviewing, and submitting to the FTC.
Facebook has faced blowback over privacy concerns for several years, most notably when political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica obtained data from 87 million Facebook users. Facebook has commissioned a third-party Human Rights Impact Assessment to work on those issues, and has stated that it’s trying to learn and improve on its past mistakes.