Facebook Applications and User Privacy


The general public has great concern about exactly what information Facebook is sharing, and with whom. This concern is becoming increasingly justified as Facebook, and social networking in general, reach more and more users. So, whether you are worried about your information being sold to advertisers or viewed by unwanted onlookers, there are things you should do to protect your privacy in this very public forum.

One difficulty with Facebook’s privacy protocol is that they are constantly changing the available settings. However, you can use the following guidelines to create a secure base of privacy for your Facebook account:

The hottest topic right now is the sharing of Facebook users’ addresses and phone numbers with third-party application creators. This sounds a bit technical, but it is important, since it applies directly to you and your use of Facebook. For example, your best friend sends you a bale of hay from “her ranch” in an online Facebook game (this online game is otherwise known as an application or app), and you receive a notification from Facebook asking if you will accept this bale of hay. You decide to take part in the fun and accept the bale of hay. However, in accepting this bale of hay, you have joined the application, and allowed the creators of this online game to access certain information from your Facebook account. Different applications ask for access to different information, some more dangerous and invasive than other data. This information provided to the creators of the application/game can include name, profile picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends, and any other information that is listed on your privacy settings to “share with everyone.” They now have the ability to send you emails directly to the email account you used to set up your Facebook account and to post directly to your “wall.”

More recently Facebook had added the ability for apps to access your address and phone number. This new ability is the reason for a lot of the heat surrounding Facebook’s privacy settings. Besides being just plain creepy, this information sharing can be annoying and even dangerous.  Under public pressure Facebook stepped back and has agreed not to share users’ addresses and phone numbers with third-parties, but there is still plenty of information being passed around. Why would Facebook do this? Well, because it is incredibly lucrative of course. Your information translates into sales for companies, and those companies are willing to pay for good, active, recent contact information. The companies or individuals who have created these applications now have your email address just as if you had signed up on their mailing lists.  They also know other information that will help them correctly target their sales pitches. They know whether to send you an advertisement for perfume or cologne, and if you are about to start driving and would be interested in a car loan.

Had Facebook stayed with the decision to allow exposure of members’ phone numbers and home addresses, the undesired advertisements could have reached an entirely new level. You would no doubt have received text messages about restaurants in your area, and even more junk email in your inbox than you already receive.

The thing that begins to make this venture move past the annoying “spammy” side of things, and go clearly into the dangerous, is that when you agreed to accept that bale of hay from your sister in law, you did not know who created the application. Anyone can develop an application and put it on Facebook for you to use. These application developers may not be the most trustworthy people, and may (and often do) have motives beyond simply providing entertainment. Aside from advertisers searching for ways to sell you things, applications may also be created by criminals looking for your personal information which they can use for fraud and identity theft.

The point of this information is not to scare you into throwing your computer out the window, but rather to arm you with the information you need to make prudent decisions that fit your lifestyle while social networking. Now you know a bit more about what is happening behind the scenes when you click that little “accept” button.  And you thought you were just getting a bale of hay….

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Nikki Junker

Nikki Junker is Social Media Coordinator and Victim Advisor at The Identity Theft Resource Center. She specializes in Identity Theft on social networks and smartphones. She enjoys working one on one with victims of identity theft as well as researching and writing about preventative measures for consumers.

3 Responses

  1. Kayley Borer says:

    I think Facebook applications are a great way to connect with friends, family and people from around the world. They help you get connected with new people and learn more about them. But there is one thing that bothers me: privacy.

    Facebook applications need your personal information in order to work properly. When you sign up for an application, you have to give it access to your profile and sometimes even more personal information like your email address or phone number. Some applications even ask for access to your friends’ profiles!

    This is not good because when someone hacks into your account they can see all of your personal information like your birthday or where you went on vacation last year! This can be dangerous because if someone finds out where you live or what schools your children go to then they might try kidnapping them! So please don’t give out too much information on Facebook applications!

  2. As a Facebook user, I’m concerned about the way that third-party applications can access my data. The Facebook app has already been found to be collecting data on people who don’t have it installed, which is a major violation of user privacy.

    In order to protect my own information, I’ve decided to delete all third-party apps from my account. This will ensure that no apps can access any of my personal data without my explicit permission.

  3. Maya Petit says:

    Facebook used to be a fun way to connect with friends and family, but now it’s a minefield of privacy violations.

    I used to love Facebook. I could keep up with my friends and family, share photos and videos, and see what was going on in their lives. It was fun! But then Facebook started using its users’ data to sell ads and things got out of hand.

    Now, not only do we have no control over the data they collect, but there are also hundreds of apps out there that are collecting information about us without our knowledge or consent and selling it to third parties.

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