Auto-Sunk. Check Your Hidden Facebook “Other” Inbox For Your Missing Emails

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Click ‘Messages’ on Facebook and then “Other” in the right sidebar and you might find emails missing from your Gmail or other personal and work accounts. Without giving you any warning or notification, Facebook last week changed your profile to hide any email addresses you’ve previously listed and instead show only your little-known “@facebook.com” address. Any messages sent to you or your @facebook.com address that weren’t sent from friends, friends of friends, or email addresses registered to their Facebook accounts ends up there, easily missed.

Now Facebook’s unauthorized change to your preferred contact info is auto-syncing with address books for some mobile devices, so people don’t even realize they’re not pinging your Gmail, they’re sending messages to your Other black hole. But rather than apologize, Facebook has implied to ReadWriteWeb that users are merely confused. Yes, users are confused…because Facebook changed their contact info without consent! Update: Facebook says contact info syncing was a bug. That still doesn’t solve the problem, though.

Why did Facebook do this? Because Facebook is in a war Apple and Google over who will control messaging.

Most people aren’t aware of or forget about their Other inbox, which is why it’s caused issues since it debuted two years ago. That’s why at first many people and publications thought the Facebook email change fiasco was causing their email to be deleted because it wasn’t showing up in their primary Facebook Messages inbox. They hadn’t checked their Other inbox. So yes they were confused, but that stemmed from Facebook’s unannounced change.

I didn’t think the Other inbox would swallow too many emails because few people would voluntarily email something to your unfamiliar @facebook.com address. The problem is that your friends didn’t even realize they were sending messages there. Their phones may have automatically synced your contact file with your Facebook profile, substituting the @facebook address for your actual email address, so when they selected to email you by name, they never saw the new Facebook address they were pinging.

Update: Facebook’s Director Of Engineering Andrew Bosworth says that the contact syncing issue that was replacing real email addresses with your friends’ @facebook.com addresses is a bug and it should be fixed by tomorrow or sooner, The Verge’s Ellis Hamburger reports. Facebook gave us a statement explaining that

Contact synchronization on devices is performed through an API. For most devices, we’ve verified that the API is working correctly and pulling the primary email address associated with the users’ Facebook account. However, for people on certain devices, a bug meant that the device was pulling the last email address added to the account rather than the primary email address, resulting in @facebook.com addresses being pulled. We are in the process of fixing this issue and it will be resolved soon. After that, those specific devices should pull the correct addresses. 

Facebook also noted that users have the ability to control which emails go to their Other inbox, and they may have it their inbox set to completely refuse emails from strangers:

“If you’ve specified in privacy settings that you only want to receive messages from friends or friend of friends, then the message will bounce. We’ve noticed that in a very limited number of cases, the bounce e-mail back to the original sender may not be delivered because it may get intercepted by spam filters. We are working to make sure that e-mail senders consistently receive bounce messages.”

Bug or not Facebook, the jig is up. By making unauthorized changes to our contact info you eroded our trust. And while auto-syncing by devices may be out of your control, that change is now having real consequences for people who are missing meetings, losing clients, or getting disconnected from friends because they weren’t getting their email where they expected to. Even by fixing the bug, there remains the underlying issue of changing visible contact info without consent.

Last week I called this poppycock and called for at least one of two solutions, and I’m still waiting:

  1. Revert the change and resurface everyone’s email address, except if someone manually altered the visibility of their addresses since the change so you don’t accidentally make visible any address someone has deliberately hidden.
  2. Notify the entire user base about the change IMMEDIATELY! Making this change without alerting users is wildly irresponsible.

Meanwhile you should use this tutorial to undo Facebook’s changes and show exactly which email addresses on your profile you want. Then read why this change was the first shot fired in the the Apple / Google / Facebook war to control messaging.