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Hey dumbo, Facebook isn't sharing telephone numbers

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Facebook has been forced to stamp out a silly rumour doing the rounds on, well, Facebook, that wrongly suggests the company will share any user's telephone list with their contacts on the social network.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, said the Mark Zuckerberg-run firm.

"Rumors claiming that your phone contacts are visible to everyone on Facebook are false," it said yesterday.

"Our Contacts list, formerly called Phonebook, has existed for a long time. The phone numbers listed there were either added by your friends themselves and made visible to you, or you have previously synced your phone contacts with Facebook. Just like on your phone, only you can see these numbers."

So there you have it. Those people who have, perhaps unwittingly, made their phone number visible on Facebook are indeed sharing those digits with their contacts on the world's largest social network.

Why the sudden nervousness, you may wonder?

Perhaps it has something to do with the launch of Facebook's Messenger service, which arrived in North America this week. "Very soon" it will be rolled out to Europe.

So presumably, individual Facebook users have been playing around with their settings on the site only to discover the seemingly creepy but actually somewhat benign contacts list.

Meanwhile, Facebook has confirmed to us that when Messenger – which is a separate app linking messages embedded in the social network with texts, chats and emails on a mobile phone – does land on this side of the pond, related data will be fed via its servers in the US.

The company, of course, farms all the data it gathers back to its spiritual homeland.

But we were interested to know how its Messenger info would be handled given, for example, the recent unrest during England's riots.

Blackberry's BBM service, which offers group messages via a closed network, was allegedly used by some of the troublemakers to quickly assemble thugs at hot spots throughout London and other parts of the country.

As we noted earlier this week, Blackberry's archives that are located on servers in the UK could potentially be scrutinised by UK police authorities to pinpoint baddies involved in the riots.

Facebook has repeatedly said it "works closely" with data protection authorities in Europe. But EU commissioner Viviane Reding recently expressed concern to this reporter about how the firm currently operates.

On a European level, Facebook isn't currently breaching data protection law when it makes stealth tweaks to its technology without first informing its users of the change.

Reding told me that Brussels hopes to close that loophole with new legislation that's coming in the autumn.

"You cannot hide anymore by saying 'my server is in Honolulu and my other server is in Kiev and...' I don't care," she warned in June.

"The law is for everyone who does business on the territory of Europe, whatever the origin of the business might be. So you cannot hide anymore by saying 'I do not have my headquarters in Europe'."

Facebook, meanwhile, is at pains to point out that it is not in the business of selling personal information.

"Advertisers on Facebook get aggregate anonymous data to show the demographics of those people that have interacted with an advert," it told The Register.

"You have control over what information others can see on your Facebook profile. Information like the phone numbers in your phonebook are personal to you (none of your friends can access your phonebook on Facebook, only you see it) and are not linked to someone's account unless they have made information available on their own profile."

And for those who want to kill the contacts list, there's this handy tool. ®

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