New ways to help people control their mobile account access

By Jon ParisVincent Gonguet
December 5, 2019

It’s important to us that the more than 2 billion people using our services each month can easily register for and log into their accounts — and regain access if they forget their login. For people who are accessing the internet for the very first time — particularly in emerging markets — this can be complicated. For example, swapping SIM cards (used to identify the owner of the mobile number and communicate to the mobile network) can make it difficult to recall which SIM is the primary one for the phone. Likewise, having local shopkeepers set up apps and social media accounts may mean someone else helped set up the password, making it more difficult to remember.

As we looked at how to make this easier for people, we realized that we could simplify this process with features like allowing people to save their login information on their devices or enabling their apps to interact with their mobile networks to receive the most current phone number. We implemented these features to simplify the process of registering for and logging in to our apps, but we also know it’s important to protect people’s privacy and give them control over their information. To provide that control, we are rolling out updated login, registration, and account recovery screens for people who are using our apps via our mobile service partners in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. 

These new screens inform people on participating networks that Facebook requests and receives up-to-date phone numbers from their mobile network. They also give people an opportunity to opt out of sharing the number for account access purposes. These phone numbers are only used for account access (to make it easier for people to register for an account, log in, or recover access to an account) and to provide programs in partnership with mobile operators. On our mobile applications, we have also updated the logout screens that inform people they have the option to save their login information to make it easier to access their account in the future.  

Understanding the challenges

In some cases, people are new not only to our apps and websites, but also to the internet as a whole. They may never have set up a username or password before. In areas where people often have friends, shopkeepers, or family members set up social media accounts for them, they may not be setting their own passwords. 

When these new users go to log in to their accounts, many may not know or remember their passwords. In addition, mobile phones are frequently the primary way to access services. Many people don’t have an email address at all, so it’s common to use a phone number to access our apps and websites. In addition, in many of these markets, it’s also common practice to use multiple SIM cards from different mobile operators to find the best possible connection and call quality in different locations.

According to the GSMA Mobile Economy Report, the number of SIM connections in 2018 (excluding cellular “internet of things” devices) totaled 7.9 billion globally. In emerging markets, the SIM ownership ratio is often higher than the global average. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, many consumers use multiple SIMs through dual-SIM handsets. In 2018, there were 456 million unique mobile subscribers but 774 million SIM connections — an average of 1.7 SIM cards per person. 

This practice of using multiple SIMs on the same phone makes it much more difficult for people to remember which is the primary SIM when they are creating an account with one of our apps. In these cases, we are able to request the phone number from their primary SIM and prefill the form for them. 

Simplifying the login process

To help people in these markets, we have made changes to the logout screens on our mobile apps, like Facebook Lite, and our mobile website, which were developed specifically for entry-level devices and areas where bandwidth is at a minimum. Given the challenges detailed above, we wanted to give people an option to save their login information to make it easier to come back to their accounts the next time. We do this as they are logging out of the app or browser so that they will be prompted before they leave the site. We believe these updated logout screens will help people maintain access to our services.

We also partner with wireless service providers to ensure that the login process works seamlessly regardless of which network or device a person is using. To make the process faster and reduce the possibility of mistyped numbers, we provide the option to have fields prefilled on registration, login, and account recovery screens. People often allow their browsers to save and prefill phone numbers, but working with service providers makes this capability available to more people on more devices.

When people are creating a new account or logging into an existing one, we request a current number from the mobile network and do things like automatically prefill that number to enable the person to log in. When people are filling out the form on their phone, they shouldn’t have to look up and enter their phone number manually, especially on non-touchscreen phones, which have smaller screens. In practice, we’ve seen that the option to do things like prefill mobile numbers to help people access their accounts disproportionately benefits those on entry-level devices.

More control

To provide a better understanding of these features and provide people with the opportunity to opt out, we are rolling out new login, registration, and account recovery screens. These changes are central to our efforts to help people access our services more easily and to give users more control over their data.

People who are using the latest version of the Facebook app or accessing our service from our mobile website will see these new tools. The new screens will allow people to customize their settings by app and device to indicate when they’d prefer not to have their number shared in this way. When they make a change, their preference will be saved only for the specific device and/or the app or browser the person is using at the time. If the same person then uses a different browser, they’ll see the same screens again, prompting them to set their preferences for that specific browser. If people opt out of this feature, we will no longer receive their number from the mobile network to prefill the form. However, it could be automatically entered if they’ve previously saved it in their app, on their device, or if they’ve previously logged in with that number. 

Working with mobile service providers to provide prefilled phone numbers helps us ensure that the account access experience on our apps and websites is simple and easy to follow for as many people as possible. These tools are important to our efforts to help people access our services more easily, and we look forward to continued collaboration with our partners. 

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