19 October 2010 | 7,583 views

Facebook Apps Leaking Personal Data To Third Parties

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Less than a week after our story about Facebook Introducing OTP (One-time Password) Functionality to make the site more secure, their dubious privacy standards have hit the news again.

Facebook privacy has been in the news numerous times and it’s a subject we’ve also covered many times, with the sheer mass of users on the site the amount of data (especially personal data) is phenomenal.

The latest buzz is that many of the most popular 3rd party apps (mostly games like Farmville and Texas HoldEm Poker) are leaking the unique Facebook ID that enables tracking of an individual Facebook user.

A number of Facebook apps have been providing advertisers with information that make social networking users easily identifiable, according to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal.

All 10 of Facebook’s most popular apps, including Farmville and Texas HoldEm Poker, are among those leaking the unique ‘Facebook ID’ number to outside firms. Every Facebook number is individual and assigned to every profile. Searching for the number will provide access to the Facebook user’s profile and anyone can view the information a user has chosen to share with ‘everyone’. This can include their name, date of birth and even photos.

Farmville, which has 59 million users, also passes this information about a user’s friends. The WSJ said at least 25 firms were being sent the Facebook IDs, which they were using to build profiles of web users, and in some cases, even track their web browsing. It’s not known if the developers knew their apps were leaking data.

It’s become a big issue because WSJ reported on it – Facebook in Privacy Breach, it seems that with the data that the apps leak + some good old data mining advertising and marketing companies can build fairly comprehensive databases about individuals on the Internet.

Not that this is a new problem for anyone who has followed the issues Facebook has been dealing with and in part making worse themselves with lax default privacy settings. It’s a contradiction really because for a service like Facebook the more data they can collect the more valuable they are and on the flip-side everyone and his dog is so worried about privacy…but they still use Facebook.

Millions of Facebook users have been affected, even those that use the social network’s strongest privacy settings. It also breaks Facebook’s rules concerning privacy, which state app developers can not pass on users’ data to outside firms, even if the user has given permission.

Facebook admitted a user’s ID “may be inadvertently shared by a user’s internet browser or by an application” but it “does not permit access to anyone’s private information on Facebook”.

Third-party developers are usually responsible for developing the apps. Facebook stopped users accessing several apps thought to have been leaking personal data.

“We have taken immediate action to disable all applications that violate our terms,” Facebook said. The WSJ named RapLeaf as one of the developers using the Facebook IDs in its own database as well as passing them onto to several other firms.

Facebook claims that somehow they are going to address these issues (by introducing new technology), perhaps another use for a OTP or some kind of token access for the application which allows you to use the application without revealing ANY personal info – including the Facebook ID.

But then I’m not sure how games like Farmville would track your progress and link to your account if they can’t use your Facebook ID.

Source: Network World



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2 Responses to “Facebook Apps Leaking Personal Data To Third Parties”

  1. William Brownyard 20 October 2010 at 7:22 pm Permalink

    Facebook is guilty of a whole lot more than that, all of those accounts are setup for email fraud, non profits agencies are used for email scams, One higher up well established email scammer works out of their offices, not to mention a bank service setup that is behind your counterfeit cashier checks nice international setup they have…

  2. Bogwitch 22 October 2010 at 7:16 pm Permalink

    @William Brownyard

    As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m no fan of Farcebook and it is my belief that users oftheir services deserve pretty much everything they get. BUT they’re some pretty heavy accusations you’ve made; do you have any evidence to back them up?