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Web tool mines Facebook for phone numbers

Well-intentioned users open their personal data to public view when they carelessly post information to public groups.

May 26, 2010|By Don Reisinger

A Web developer who says he wants to highlight the dangers of not paying attention to protecting personal information online has unveiled a program that shows how easy it is to obtain the telephone numbers of Facebook users.

The program, called Evil, sifts through Facebook groups to find posts left by users of the social network that include their phone numbers. It then displays the person's name and all but the last three digits of the phone numbers.

The issue, according to Tom Scott, the tool's creator, is that there are a slew of Facebook groups created each day by folks who have lost their cellphones and want to rebuild the electronic phone directories they contained. Rather than e-mail each contact individually, those people create Facebook groups in which other users can simply post their phone numbers to the group's wall. From there, the group owner can take the numbers and put them into his or her new phone.

It's a simple, useful process for the group owner. But what those who are adding their numbers to the wall might not realize is that most of those groups are open to public view. And, according to Scott, a public group is viewable by anyone anywhere in the world, regardless of whether they are a Facebook user or not.

Scott says the Evil app aims to highlight that flaw and scare people into thinking twice before sharing content on Facebook. He also tells users that they should remove their phone numbers from any groups they might have shared them with. If they don't, the numbers are readily available with a simple Google search or by sifting through groups.

Evil, which Scott has made available online, might not make affected users or Facebook itself very happy, but it effectively highlights a key issue with the social network: Users are too willing to share information. Facebook couldn't be reached for comment.

business@latimes.com

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