Is Facebook rummaging through my phone?
August 20, 2015 8:16 PM   Subscribe

I had a couple of very odd experiences with the Facebook mobile browser page (Chrome for iOS on an iPhone 6) that seem beyond coincidence, and it makes me wonder if Facebook is rummaging through my phone, or if iOS is giving some kind of privileged access to some of my information to Facebook.

To provide some background, I am a very rudimentary Facebook user. I have approximately 10 friends who are all immediate or extended family and one contact from my church. I have no contacts who are professional acquaintances, nor would any of my existing friends know any of my professional contacts. This account is about a year old. I previously had an FB account with a little over 100 friends, but was beginning to tire of Facebook, and had my account deleted (or so I understood) about 3 years ago. I have only come back to satisfy my wife who finds it a convenient way to share stuff with me that she finds interesting. My only access to Facebook is through their web interface, on a PC, an iPad or on my iPhone. I have no native Facebook apps installed on any device.

With all that said, twice this week I have had the experience of receiving a phone call on my iPhone from someone I work with, once from a fellow employee, and once from a client contact, that was followed very shortly by the appearance of that person in the "you might know" list that Facebook presents to prompt you to grow your friends list. The first time this happened, on Tuesday, I thought "how weird, I can't think of a single association with my existing friends that would prompt Facebook to show me that person". The second time happened this evening, and freaked me out even more.

The only actual association that I can make between these two events (or four? two calls and two you-might-knows?) is that I received their calls on the same cell phone on which I later viewed the you-might-know notification. Neither of these people are particularly common contacts for me. The first I've only known for a week, and the other several months. The email address that I registered to FB with is not my work address, and neither of the people in question have any reason to possess my email address. I have not registered my phone with Facebook either. I can see no reason at all for either of these coincidental occurrences, much less both of them, so close together.

Given my understanding of current browser behavior, I am no longer surprised if I click on something at Amazon or some other e-commerce site, and then later see that item show up in an advertisement on a news or sports site. I understand that there is metering and observation going on all that time and that some super-cookie can broadcast my preferences to anyone willing to pay the price, but to see this behavior crossing out of the browser and between distinct applications on my phone, including my phone, is deeply disturbing to me.

Am I just imagining this or is my phone somehow giving up information to my browser that is unrelated to my browsing activity?
posted by hwestiii to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It might be on their end, not yours - I know Facebook have their own dialer app, and your colleagues might be syncing their contacts with FB.
posted by sagc at 8:20 PM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: sagc, I don't know. I have not registered my phone number with Facebook, and my corporate contact card doesn't appear to contain my home address.
posted by hwestiii at 8:28 PM on August 20, 2015

Yes, I had a phone contact pop up in this way last month with no other association with her. She wasn't even saved under her full name in my phone.

Also, people I have sent emails to from my current and past work email accounts (that were synced with my phone) have definitely been popping up on people you might know recently.

So yeah, I think there's definitely some mining going on but I don't know how to disallow it.

Just reread--I have the app installed on my Android phone so maybe a different situation than yours.
posted by geegollygosh at 8:51 PM on August 20, 2015

I believe that if THEY search for YOU, they are weighted to show up in "people you may know." Or vice versa. LinkedIn is much worse, if you search for someone you are virtually guaranteed to show up in their People You May Know, which has lead to weird "coincidences" when people I have absolutely no professional connection with, but have a tenuous personal connection to, start showing up there.
posted by miyabo at 9:37 PM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

On the web, you can use a tools like Ghostery to eliminate a lot of this. On mobile, do NOT install the Facebook app if you want to limit their access to your information; by default, they can dig into just about everything, including your contacts. Just visit the mobile version of the website when using your phone. That still gives Facebook access to basic information (e.g., what you're clicking on in your timeline, how long you're on the site, who you search for on Facebook, etc.), but a much smaller amount. You can do more to protect your information, and of course you can always close the account altogether, but I've found Ghostery and use of the mobile website on Android make for a reasonable compromise.
posted by iamfantastikate at 10:22 PM on August 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm a web developer and I can't see how a mobile browser would have access to the device's call history.

I think it's more likely this was prompted by action on the other person's end. Possibly they searched for your facebook profile hoping to get your phone number from it, or maybe they messaged a mutual friend asking for it? Facebook would use those signals (searching for you, interaction with a mutual friend) to prompt them to you.
posted by losvedir at 1:26 AM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am a journalist and shortly after I interviewed a guy he showed up on my "people you might know" list.
I don't have his office number saved and I don't even have his mobile phone number. I never mentioned him on FB though I guess my name is online as a byline in the article. Totally freaky. But yeah, maybe he searched for me?
posted by Omnomnom at 2:17 AM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, my guess is that they looked you up on FB (possibly to try to get your number) before calling you.

Web browsers are very carefully locked down to avoid leaking information like this, and iOS apps are sandboxed anyways. Make sure the Facebook app doesn't have permission to access your contact list (iOS privacy settings). I've no love of FB myself, but they're not gonna exploit your phone to get your contact info, they'd be above board with it. (LinkedIn, on the other hand...)
posted by neckro23 at 6:55 AM on August 21, 2015

Yes, when you install the app you agree to give them access to all of your contact information and pictures as part of their Terms and Conditions. You are not imagining things.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:02 AM on August 21, 2015

Best answer: If their mobile Facebook app is set to synchronize with their phone contacts, and if they added your phone number to your contact details, then Facebook now knows your number (but won't show it), even if you didn't volunteer it. Then when they call you, Facebook knows it, and will attempt to leverage it.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 7:03 AM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yes, when you install the app you agree to give them access to all of your contact information and pictures as part of their Terms and Conditions. You are not imagining things.

OP states that they do not have the app installed.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 7:37 AM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

OP states that they do not have the app installed.

I believe the terms are the same to use fb on any platform. You sign up for an account, or use their site you agree. Since he is on iOS, it is likely that much of his data is synced between devices thus lending credence to the assumption that fb has access to everything.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:29 AM on August 21, 2015

Since he is on iOS, it is likely that much of his data is synced between devices thus lending credence to the assumption that fb has access to everything.

That would require Chrome to be passing call logs to Facebook, and in fact there's not even an API for Chrome to see your call logs in the first place.
posted by ftm at 8:47 AM on August 21, 2015

The simplest answer is that they searched for you on FB. I do that all the time when I'm trying to figure out the best way to contact someone I don't know (I'm a cataloging librarian, and sometimes I have to contact authors to ask them questions). If I can find a FB account that's definitely theirs I'll message it; if not I'll keep looking around until I find email or phone contact info.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:06 AM on August 21, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers. I can't imagine why anyone would look for me on Facebook. There are so many people with same first name, last name combo that it can't be efficient.
posted by hwestiii at 9:56 AM on August 21, 2015

Best answer: If they have the app and have your phone number stored in their phone, they can show up in your "People You May Know" even though you don't have it.
posted by intensitymultiply at 12:07 PM on August 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

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