Facebook’s attempted email takeover blunders along, overwrites users’ contacts

2 Jul 2012

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Users have already expressed discontent at Facebook’s attempt to become the default email service by silently updating their contact information, and now it seems that contact details synced on users’ phones have undergone some changes, too.

Last week, we reported that Facebook had changed users’ visible contact information to display an @facebook.com email address without sufficient notification.

Had the change not been widely reported, many users may never have noticed. The issue here is that changing someone’s default contact information could lead to missed messages – which has been exactly the case for a number of users issuing complaints to the social network.

However, Facebook’s email rollout didn’t stop there and users are now reporting that saved contacts on their mobile devices have changed to Facebook email addresses.

This appears to be a result of syncing contacts with Facebook, particularly in the case of users on iOS 6, which boasts increased Facebook integration – whether users want it or not.

Missing emails

Perhaps the most high-profile complainant is Adobe employee Rachel Luxemburg. “A co-worker discovered that his contact info for me had been silently updated to overwrite my work email address with my Facebook email address,” she wrote in a personal blog post. “He discovered this only after sending work emails to the wrong address. And even worse, the emails are not actually in my Facebook messages. I checked. They’ve vanished into the ether. For all I know, I could be missing a lot more emails from friends, colleagues, or family members, and never even know it.”

It appears that even though Luxemburg changed her contact information as soon as she heard of the Facebook switchover, her details on friends’ and colleagues’ contact lists may still default to a Facebook email.

Facebook’s response has been largely unapologetic and more than a little condescending, blaming the issue on users’ “confusion” – as it’s your own fault if you didn’t notice Facebook has added a new folder for messages.

Confusing users

“By default, messages from friends or friends of friends go into your inbox,” said spokesperson Meredith Chin. “Everything else goes to your Other folder. (If you click on Messages in your left-hand navigation menu, you’ll see below it an Other folder that drops down.) That is likely where the messages are being sent from other people’s emails. Even if that person is friends with them on Facebook, if the friend doesn’t have that email on their Facebook account, the message could end up in the Other folder.”

So, to sum up, Facebook changed users’ contact information on their profiles, changed their friends’ contact info to Facebook email addresses on other devices, and has begun filtering out emails from friends to a separate folder if their email doesn’t correspond with one provided on their Facebook profile – more likely than not, an @facebook.com one.

If Facebook manages to get its 900m users to adopt its email service it could become the top email service in the world, a title currently claimed by Gmail with 425m monthly active users. But bullying users into using its service is simply not the way to go about it.

Elaine Burke is managing editor of Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com