German government officials have pressured Facebook to stop spamming people to join the social network after a contact uses the Friend Finder feature; apparently these messages went out even to people that hadn’t been expressly invited by a human.
The company agreed to change this after the city of Hamburg’s data protection office made official complaints to Facebook, according to Der Spiegel. The officials had responded to gripes from people who got emails that included images from profiles of contacts from messaging address books.
The spam had showed signs that Facebook retained the contents of users’ address books from third-party applications well after said users had sent out invitations, and messages went out to people who hadn’t specifically been invited by the person who’d used the Friend Finder feature.
“For many, it wasn’t clear at all how Facebook could know that they knew certain members of the social network in real life,” says Johannes Caspar, who handles data protection issues for the city-state of Hamburg. “Facebook will be required to alert users that they should only send invitations to those contacts who they know personally and who, in their opinion, want to receive such an invitation.”
Now the Friend Finder will make a disclosure to the user whenever that individual loads an address book and ask permission before sending any invitations. Recipients of these messages will also see an explanation of why they received an invitation and have the option to block future mail from Facebook.
We’ve asked Facebook to clarify whether the improved transparency in the Friend Finder will become available only in Germany or worldwide. So far, the social network hasn’t answered that same question when posed by Der Spiegel.