How did Facebook get my email address?

FacebookLast month I gave a talk to some ‘seniors’ about social media, particularly Facebook. Many of them are wary of using social media because of privacy concerns, and talking to them made me realise that there are a lot of misconceptions that make people more fearful than they need to be.

One that stands out involves requests from other people. Some of them had received friend requests from others, usually relatives, that arrived in the form of an email. These emails come from Facebook and so the recipients were automatically suspicious.

Facebook cannot get your email address. Only people that already know your email address can send you messages from Facebook. If you get an email from Facebook it is because someone who knows you used Facebook and has used the email address that they know is yours.

Finding Friends in Facebook

When your friend uses the Friend Finder in Facebook they are asked for temporary access to their email address book so that it can use the email addresses. It doesn’t keep them, so every time they use it they have to give permission and sign in with their email password all over again.

Facebook Friend Finder

They enter their email address and password, and Facebook looks through their email addresses and gives a list of all the addresses that have been used to join Facebook. They can select all of these, or just a few of them – it’s their choice – and then they can send them all a friend request, which the friends then have a choice about accepting.

Some of the people in their address books may not be friends. They may be acquaintances, tradespeople, teachers, or even relatives that you would not want to speak to on a day-to-day basis. The people in your address book are not necessarily people you would want to have a continuing social relationship with.

But if they left all of them selected then they will be sent a friend request.

Finding Friends who do not use Facebook

After they have dealt with the people in their address book that are already registered in Facebook they are then given the a list of the ones who are not. They can then send them those people an invitation to join Facebook, which sends each one of them an email.

I think it is these invitations that are causing concern for some people. They look like they have come from Facebook, which they have, but only because someone who knows you has chosen to send the invitation to you.

Again, they can choose to select only certain people, or leave everyone selected and send a message to everyone.

They can then use the address books in the other services listed, such as Skype and Windows Live Messenger, to find more friends, and the process starts all over again.

To preserve the privacy of my own friends I can’t show you what these screens look like. But there is nothing diabolical about this process.

If you receive an email from Facebook that asks you to be friends with someone, you can assume that it has come from that person directly, using Facebook. If the person is a friend or relative that you would like to stay in contact with then you have nothing to fear from joining Facebook as long as you immediately start off by changing some of the privacy settings. These are described in detail in my book Social Media for Family Historians.

You may find, after you join Facebook, that you have much more meaningful contact with these friends and relatives than you did before. That has been my experience. You can share news, photos and stories quickly and easily without having to print and post the photos.