Facebook Privacy Creep Shocks With Apps

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A new Facebook privacy encroachment, which may shock even the most carefree social media Netizen, was revealed by Reg “Raganwald” Braithwaite on Friday – apps which have been authorized by a Facebook user may take with it and use a myriad of personal information about that user’s “friends” including birthday, education and work history, location, hometown, status updates, and videos.


Just when you thought it was safe to go back into Facebook’s social sharing party, the privacy shark has revealed its threatening dorsal fin under the “Apps, Games and Websites” settings of the user’s “Privacy Settings”. I’m not sure when this option to disallow apps from taking all of my Friends’ personal and private data appeared because, while I may check my Facebook page numerous times a day and occasionally even make a status update, I don’t in fact check my privacy settings every day, and if you are anything like me, or the average user, you also don’t and you also haven’t REALLY read the terms of services before checking the box that said you did.



Facebook Apps Can Take Your Friends' Personal Data (CC Flickr, Mr. Lujan)

My guess is that this latest “opt-out” option, the equivalent of someone sending you a message which must be covered with solution to make invisible ink magically appear, was added sometime in the last month or so. Here is what the apps do and this is what you must do to plug the latest privacy hole in the personal information dam and keep the Facebook privacy sharks at bay, at least for a little while:


Click on “Privacy Settings” from your home page on Facebook and from here, you will see, fifth option down, a setting called “Apps and Websites”, under which in small text you are helpfully informed: “control what gets shared with apps, games and websites.”


As a Facebook fan and frequent user, I would much rather this text read something like this: “Tell apps what and how information and data from your Facebook account can be shared. The app will not work unless you do this.” That would be real control, and real privacy. Facebook likes to frequently inform the user that they are “in control” when it seems to me quite the opposite is true.


You will notice after clicking on “Apps and Websites” in “Privacy Settings”, a list of apps and websites you use with the header on the left “Apps you use”. I had a long list of apps that I had forgotten ever giving permission to and have no wish to use now so deleted about 20 of these, leaving 25, like Twitter, MySpace, and movie aggregation website Rottentomatoes.com, then clicked on “Edit Settings” for “How people bring your info to apps they use”.  A box then popped up helpfully supplying a surprisingly long list of personal information and data belonging to people in my friend’s list that any app I have approved can now take and use.



Apps You Use

The text over this very long list of your friend’s personal data which you the socially carefree and frictionless Facebook user, have helpfully made available to apps simply by approving and using it, explains:


“People on Facebook who can see your info can bring it with them when they use apps. This makes their experience better and more social.  Use the settings below to control the categories of information that people can bring with them when they use apps, games and websites.”


Isn’t that lovely! All of my friend’s information – their work and education history, location data, and relationship status, I can bring it with me – it’s mine to use with my apps. Like a birthday present, just for me!  Well, just for me and the rest of the world.  Raganwald, who wrote about the latest now-you-see-it now you don’t privacy control on his Posterous blog, explains the ramifications of this latest, and perhaps creepiest of all of Facebook’s privacy leaks to date.


BranchOut, an app that creates a professional social networking experience similar to that on LinkedIn, requires the user to agree to let the app receive your “Friends’ profile information, education histories, locations and work histories. “ The real world equivalent of this, Raganwald reasons, quite reasonably, is if I were to go to a headhunter in search of a job, and agreed to hand over to him all of the resumes and similar information for all of my friends.


In order to take back some of your privacy, after clicking on  “Edit Settings” for “How people bring info into apps they use”, uncheck all of the categories of information, click “Save Changes”, and watch the Facebook privacy shark swim away, at least for now.


It’s still out there.


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Author: David John Walker

Dave has a B.A. in Mathematics, loves writing and reading about the latest developments in technology and social media, and has been working as a freelance writer for five years.

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