The last time you fed the chickens on Farmville, sent someone an iHeart, or played Mafia Wars, I’m sure the last thing on your mind was an internet tracking company. Unfortunately, that is exactly what those companies were betting on. But now the whistle is being blown by the Wall Street Journal in a recent investigation outlined by Emily Steel and Geoffrey A Fowler. According to the article on WSJ.com, many of the most popular applications, or “apps,” on Facebook have been transmitting identifying information—in other words, providing access to people’s names and, in some cases, their friends’ names—to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies. The top 10 culprits include the afore mentioned, plus FrontierVille, Phrases, Texas HoldEm, Causes, Café World, Quiz Planet and Treasure Isle.
This breach of privacy affects tens of millions of Facebook users, including those that have set their privacy to the strictest settings. For the people with private profiles, the tracking companies can only access a person’s name through their Facebook ID, a building block of the software. However, open profiles can provide information such as age, residence, occupation and photos – plenty of information for even the most basic marketing plans. Though most of the apps were not created by Facebook, and this is something that breaks Facebook rules, it raises the question about whether or not Facebook can keep its virtual mouth shut.
It is still unclear about how long this has been going on or even whether or not the companies knew they were doing it, but the reality is – anything with access to 500 million people is going to become a target. Facebook has apparently shut down any app that the Journal found to be transmitting user IDs and is taking strides to correct the issue. But this is where common sense might need to kick in. Set your profile to private, be careful with ads and decide if your identity is more important than feeding the chickens.
For the full article and more details about the investigation, please click here.