Facebook Apps Leaking Private Data

By Cindy Waxer October 18, 2010

Facebook fans are crying foul. According to a Wall Street Journal articleFacebook’s top 10 applications have been transmitting data that can be used to identify users to advertising and Internet-tracking firms. That’s in violation of the popular social network’s own privacy policies and has raised doubts about Facebook’s ability to protect confidential information concerning its users’ online activities and preferences.,

In response, Facebook confirmed that some popular third-party applications are transmitting identifying information about users to advertising and Internet tracking companies. "In most cases, developers did not intend to pass this information, but did so because of the technical details of how browsers work," Facebook engineer Mike Vernal said in a blog post. "We are talking with our key partners and the broader Web community about possible solutions."

Vernal maintains that press reports are greatly exaggerating the implications of the situation. "Nevertheless, we are committed to ensuring that even the inadvertent passing of (user identification information) UIDs is prevented and all applications are in compliance with our policy," Vernal said. "We take strong measures to enforce this policy, including suspending and disabling applications that violate it."

Still, tens of millions of Facebook application users may be affected by the privacy breach, including those who set their profiles to be completely private.

"Our policy is very clear about protecting user data, ensuring that no one can access private user information without explicit user consent," Vernal said. "Further, developers cannot disclose user information to ad networks and data brokers."

The Journal reported that applications such as Zynga’s FarmVille, with 59 million users, Texas HoldEm Poker and FrontierVille are among those transmitting unique user ID numbers to companies that build detailed databases on people in an effort to track their online activities.

"A Facebook user ID may be inadvertently shared by a user's Internet browser or by an application," a Facebook spokesman told the Journal. “Knowledge of an ID "does not permit access to anyone's private information on Facebook," he said, adding that the company would introduce new technology to contain the problem identified by the Journal.

Edited by Chris DiMarco

TechZone360 Contributing Editor

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