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Facebook Apps Sharing Private Info With Third-Parties

by Sean P. Aune | October 18, 2010October 18, 2010 12:00 pm PST

Facebook has stated many times that it takes your privacy seriously, and one thing that it has stated again and again is that it makes sure that the third-party applications, which now number over 550,000, do not share any of your personal data beyond what they need to store your game data.  But, what happens when the companies claim that they don’t even know when they are sharing the info, and it may even impact people who don’t use the apps?

Facebook LogoAccording to a new study conducted by The Wall Street Journal, apps have been transmitting your user ID to dozens of outside advertising and marketing firms.  Some companies, such as RapLeaf Inc. – which helps embed IDs into cookies that are used to track users across the Web – were connecting user IDs to a database filled with information on those users.  The company says that unbeknownst to them, this information was then transferred to marketing and advertising firms.  This information also allowed companies to gain access to Facebook accounts that are set to private and/or unsearchable, basically meaning that everyone became an open book.

The report found that this issue was not limited to smaller companies, but also included the big name apps such as FarmVille from Zynga which has 59 million users.

While it would be easy to say that it serves people right for giving up their info to grow a virtual farm, the problem was that the IDs also gave marketing firms access to the friend’s lists of those people.  Due to the number of apps involved, it sounds like essentially everyone on Facebook has now been passed on to these third-party firms as 70 percent of the site’s users use these apps each month.

The good news is that no private personal data has been shared, but it is still a black eye for a company that has already had so many issues with privacy over its relatively short lifespan.  A spokesperson for Facebook told the newspaper, “”Our technical systems have always been complemented by strong policy enforcement, and we will continue to rely on both to keep people in control of their information.”

Some have immediately started to speculate that the disabling of all the applications produced by LOLapps Media was connected to this revelation, but those apps were taken offline on Friday, so it may be a coincidence in timing.  The apps remain off line, and the company is declining to comment on what has happened.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense that it would be the same issue as other companies such as Zynga remain functioning at this time.

There is no word when this might be resolved, but Facebook wanted to assure its users that it is working to close this information leak.

What say you?  Is there anything resembling privacy once you choose to interact online?


Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...

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