Facebook's apps were caught doing something naughty, but the site seems in no hurry to punish its app partners.  (Source: Kim White Bloomberg)
Site shared users names and friends, including those with the strictest privacy settings

The Wall Street Journal's investigative staff have unleashed serious allegations against the world's largest network Facebook and its partners.  According to the report, the site's partners have been intentionally and blatantly violating its privacy policies.  Makers of some of the site's most popular apps have been sharing users names with advertisers, something strictly prohibited under the site's terms of service.  

App makers reportedly have even shared the info of users who have their privacy set to the strictest settings.  Users with less strict settings may also have had the list of their friends shared, which in turn could affect users with stricter settings, second-hand.

Reportedly over 10 million users were effected by the violation of terms of service.

The breach of privacy is part of an increasingly lucrative scheme known as data mining.  Today data mining allows advertisers to better target their audience, by maintaining vast databases of information detailing various individual's behavior and tastes.  Data mining companies call upon the services of heavily trafficked sites like Facebook and Google to deliver vast amounts of user data.  While many users don't realize it, their name is instantly associated with a lengthy record of their internet activity and purchases.

Facebook is claiming the scheme, which brought its partners lucrative advertising money, was "inadvertent" -- an innocent accident.

States a spokesperson to 
The Wall Street Journal, "A Facebook user ID may be inadvertently shared by a user's Internet browser or by an application.  [Knowledge of an ID] does not permit access to anyone's private information on Facebook.  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."

According to 
The Wall Street Journal, 10 of the site's most popular apps, subscribed to by many its over 500 million active users, were involved in the scheme.  Three of the apps involved were -- Zynga Game Network Inc.'s FarmVille, with 59 million users, and Texas HoldEm Poker and FrontierVille.  Farmville was among three apps thats also sold information on users' friends to advertisers, collected in violation with the site's terms of service.

Facebook has announced no plans to discipline these partners, despite the fact that some of them were clearly caught violating its terms of service. 

The debacle comes just a month after 
West Wing screenwriter Aaron Sorkin portrayed the site's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a less than flattering manner in the film The Social Network.  It also comes as the site struggles with its latest addition, user "groups".  

As pranks, users have been adding their friends to groups associated with taboos such as pedophilia and terrorism, raising the possibility of legal trouble for these friends.  The site's founder was added to NAMBLA -- a group supporting pedophilia.  Users have no way of blocking themselves from being added to groups, raising legal risks for them.  Once added, though, users can opt to leave a group at any time.  Facebook has defended the new feature, refusing to make changes.

Facebook did recently roll out a privacy settings control panel for apps, giving users more control over what information is shared.  One problem, though is that users can still have their identities shared by friends, if their friends adopt more lax privacy settings.  There currently is no way to limit what information your friends share with app makers and advertisers, including your name and potentially other info.

For their part, some app makers claim that they only mistakenly sold private user data.  They said they were merely selling advertisers referring links, a common practice, and had no idea those referring links contained personal info, such as the user's name.  They, in effect, blame Facebook for the technical error.

Others, like FamilyBuilder, maker of the Family Tree application, admitted to harvesting user data intentionally, but say that they kept user info confidential.  Family Tree reported passed on info to data mining firm RapLeaf, that in turn deposit custom-tailored cookies on users' computers to further track their activities.  Info from these cookies was sold to a number of other firms, including Google subsidiary Invite Media.

"Death Is Very Likely The Single Best Invention Of Life" -- Steve Jobs

Most Popular Articles

Copyright 2018 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki