Facebook harvested the email contacts of 1.5 million users without their knowledge or consent and used the data to build a web of their social connections, it emerged today. Business Insider reports that Facebook began collecting the contact lists in May 2016 when new users opened a new account on the social network.

facebook email contacts uploaded

Image via Business Insider

The harvesting occurred when users were offered email password verification as an option to verify their identity when signing up to Facebook, a method widely condemned by security experts. In some cases if users did enter their password, a pop-up message would appear informing them that it was "importing" their contacts, without even asking their permission to do so.

These contacts were then fed into Facebook's database systems and used to build a map of users' social links and inform recommended friends on the social network. It's not clear if the data was also used for ad-targeting purposes.

In a statement given to Business Insider, the company said that these email contacts had been "unintentionally uploaded" to Facebook when users created their account.

It also said that prior to May 2016, it offered an option to verify a user's account and voluntarily upload their contacts at the same time. However, the feature was changed and the text informing users that their contacts would be uploaded was deleted, but the underlying functionality was not. Facebook says at no point did it access the content of users' emails.

We estimate that up to 1.5 million people's email contacts may have been uploaded. These contacts were not shared with anyone and we're deleting them. We've fixed the underlying issue and are notifying people whose contacts were imported. People can also review and manage the contacts they share with Facebook in their settings.

The news is just the latest addition to a long list of privacy blunders and violations by Facebook. In March, for example, it emerged that between 200 and 600 million Facebook users may have had their account passwords stored in plain text in a database accessible to 20,000 Facebook employees. Some Instagram passwords were also included.

That was followed earlier this month by news that cybersecurity researchers had discovered millions of Facebook records publicly accessible on Amazon's cloud servers, after the data was uploaded by third-party companies that work with Facebook.

In yet another development just this week, over 4,000 pages of documents from 2011 to 2015 were leaked which provide insight into how Facebook took advantage of user data while publicly promising to protect user privacy before and after its 2015 move to end broad access to user data.

Top Rated Comments

LewisChapman Avatar
27 months ago
Facebook saying they will ‘delete the harvested email addresses’ is like me saying I’ll put away this pack of biscuits after this last one.
Score: 27 Votes (Like | Disagree)
iPhysicist Avatar
27 months ago
DELETE Facebook already. What on earth keeps this thing alive?! Every other "social" media would be dead by now.
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
macfacts Avatar
27 months ago
Why hasn't Tim removed the FB app from the store?
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Adam Warlock Avatar
27 months ago
This sort of thing keeps happening because there are no real consequences. A million-dollar fine per e-mail address would change things very, very quickly IMO.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
0815 Avatar
27 months ago
Not surprised... they are not trustworthy.

But as long as people stay with them nothing will change.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Relentless Power Avatar
27 months ago
Facebook definitely has its share of ongoing problems, it’s unfortunate what it’s become over the years, especially when it doesn’t value the users privacy in mind, even when they claim too. And in today’s digital era of the Internet, privacy is crucial, and Facebook has failed on many levels. (Proud to say I’ve never had a Facebook account and now I’m glad I never did.)
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

apple watch ecg

Apple Watch Likely to Gain Blood Pressure, Blood Glucose, and Blood Alcohol Monitoring

Monday May 3, 2021 4:03 am PDT by
The Apple Watch may gain the ability to measure blood pressure, blood glucose, and blood alcohol levels, according to newly-revealed information about one of Apple's chosen business partners. Apple has been revealed to be the largest customer of the British electronics start-up Rockley Photonics, The Telegraph reports. Rockley Photonics has developed non-invasive optical sensors for...
tile sticker e1570533758981

Tile CEO: 'We Welcome Competition From Apple, But We Think It Needs to Be Fair'

Tuesday May 4, 2021 9:51 am PDT by
Just after Apple announced its AirTags, Tile CEO CJ Prober relayed his concerns about competing with Apple in the tracking space, and said that Tile would ask Congress to investigate Apple's business practices specific to Find My and item trackers. Prober this week did an interview with Bloomberg, where he further expanded on Tile's complaints about Apple and why he feels that Tile is...
facebook instargram updated att prompt 1

Facebook and Instagram Ask Users to Enable App Tracking in Order to Keep Services 'Free of Charge'

Sunday May 2, 2021 1:22 pm PDT by
As a way to convince users to enable tracking across other apps and websites, Facebook is deploying the tactic of telling users that they must enable tracking as part of the App Tracking Transparency framework in iOS 14.5 if they want to help keep Facebook and Instagram "free of charge." App Tracking Transparency or ATT is the newest privacy feature to come to iPhone and iPad devices as part ...
fortnite apple logo 2

Epic CEO Tim Sweeney Admits App Store's 30% Cut Is Similar to Consoles, Would Have Accepted Special Deal With Apple

Tuesday May 4, 2021 1:54 pm PDT by
Apple's legal battle with Epic Games is continuing on, and during the second day of the trial, Epic Games' CEO Tim Sweeney continued his testimony against Apple. Sweeney was grilled by Apple's lawyers, and made several points seemingly favorable to Apple. In addition to mentioning how he prefers Apple's iPhone and values Apple's privacy policies that he's aiming to dismantle, Sweeney...
Flat 2021 MacBook Pro Mockup Feature 1

Mini-LED Display Production Improving for Redesigned MacBook Pro Models Later This Year

Monday May 3, 2021 8:33 am PDT by
Apple supplier TSMT, a key vendor involved in the production of mini-LED displays in the newly announced 12.9-inch iPad Pro, has been able to address technical challenges for the production of mini-LED displays to be used in the upcoming 14 and 16-inch redesigned MacBook Pro models. As reported by DigiTimes, TSMT had initially been facing production constraints with the circuit board and...
signal instagram ads3

Signal Shares the Instagram Ads Facebook Doesn't Want You to See

Wednesday May 5, 2021 1:29 am PDT by
Encrypted messaging app Signal has had a series of Instagram ads blocked from the social media platform, after it attempted to show users how much data the Facebook-owned company collects about them and how it's used to push targeted ads. In a blog post, Signal described how it generated the ads to show users why they were seeing them, simply by declaring upfront the information that the...
Foldable iPhone 2023 Feature Yellow

Kuo: Apple to Launch 8-Inch Foldable iPhone in 2023

Sunday May 2, 2021 8:43 pm PDT by
Apple is working to launch a foldable iPhone with an 8-inch QHD+ flexible OLED display in 2023, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said today in a note to investors that was seen by MacRumors. Based on our latest industry survey, we forecast that Apple will likely launch a foldable iPhone with an 8-inch QHD+ flexible OLED display in 2023, with SDC as the exclusive display supplier and Samsung Foundry...
iOS 14 on iPhone feature emergency

Apple Releases iOS and iPadOS 14.5.1 With Fixes for App Tracking Transparency Bug, WebKit Security Issues

Monday May 3, 2021 10:04 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS and iPadOS 14.5.1, minor security updates that come just a week after the release of the iOS 14.5 update. There is also a companion watchOS 7.4.1 update for Apple Watch and an iOS 12.5.3 update for older iPhone and iPad devices that don't support Apple's latest operating system versions. According to Apple's release notes, the update fixes a bug with App Tracking...
airtags teardown tile mat galaxy smarttag

iFixit Shares AirTag Teardown Revealing 'Impressively Compact' Design Compared to Tile Mate and Galaxy SmartTag

Sunday May 2, 2021 4:54 am PDT by
iFixit has shared the first of its two-part series in tearing down Apple's AirTag item tracker, revealing that Apple had to make impressive design decisions to achieve its small design, including rethinking the speaker layout. For comparison, iFixit compared Apple's AirTag to the Tile Mate and the Samsung Galaxy SmartTag. Compared to the competition, AirTag is the smallest in size, with the...
maxresdefault

Hands-On With Brydge's 12.9-Inch iPad Pro Keyboard With Trackpad

Tuesday May 4, 2021 11:48 am PDT by
Brydge has been making keyboards for Apple's iPads for years now, and the newest model, the Brydge 12.9 MAX+, is compatible with the third, fourth, and fifth-generation iPad Pro models, so it works even with the new mini-LED iPad Pro. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. In our latest YouTube video, we checked out the new Brydge 12.9 MAX+ to see if it's a viable...