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I'm building a small social network for a specific audience and have a question about how to best leverage info provided by a user's friends to help complete a user's profile. Here's two examples:

  • Case 1: New user invites. When a user adds a friend who hasn't yet joined the network, we'll ask for the friend's email (to send an email invite) and/or mobile phone (to send an SMS invite). Imagine a case where both email and phone were provided. When that user joins the network, we already know the user's email and phone number. When the user clicks from the invite email or text message into the new-user-signup form, should we pre-populate the new user's profile with the email and phone info that we already know? Or is that too creepy and intrusive?

  • Case 2: Existing users with no phone numbers yet. Searching for friends to add, as described above, will use a form with name, email, and/or phone to find the new friend. Imagine a user "Joe" searches for their real-life friend "Carlos" by typing in Carlos's name, email, and phone. Carlos is found on the network and he's sent a friend request by the app. But Carlos hasn't yet added his mobile phone number to his profile, which will be a common case because phone number is optional in the new-user signup UI. Now, because Joe typed in Carlos's phone number to find him on the network, we now know Carlos's phone number (or, more precisely, we know a phone number that's probably Carlos's number) even though Carlos never entered it. When Carlos next logs into the app, should we offer to add this new phone number to his profile, and if so what's a good way to do this without Carlos feeling like we're invading his privacy?

So far, my best idea for the first case is to just pre-populate the phone number in the user's profile and let the user change it if it's wrong. The fields could have a small "Your friend Joe Smith gave us this info. Is it correct?" or something like that to help users know where the info came from.

For the second case, I was thinking of some sort of notification, e.g. "Your friend Joe Smith suggested that your phone number is XXX-XXX-XXXX. Do you want to add this number to your profile? [Yes] [No]". And then we'd remember the choice so if a user says "no" then we wouldn't ask them again.

Is this a good way to do it? Is there a better way? If not clear enough above, even though I'm initially focused on phone number since it's the most important optional profile field, the same questions may apply to other info that friends may provide.

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Ideally, you should not be collecting the information of the people who have not given their consent for your service. These invites should be a one time use of the information, and not tie them to the profile of users who might join in the future.

Because we don't live in a world where data is used ideally -

Case 1: It would be extremely creepy if the user clicked on the email link and you somehow knew their phone number already. Or the other way round. Even the help text "Your friend Joe Smith gave us this info. Is it correct?" might raise eyebrows on how you use the collected data.

Case 2: This would be creepy as well, because the user might have specifically chosen to not give that information. As a rule of thumb, I would imagine that any personal information not provided is an information that the user does not want your service to know. I understand that you intend this being a convenience for your users, but this could potentially turn them off.

But what you could explore is using this information to suggest friends/connections to your users. For instance, I send out an invite to person X today, but the person joins the network a few months down the line from another member Y's invite. You could use the previously collected information to suggest me as a potential connection to X.

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