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Step away from the animals a moment, Farmville folks. You and the users of at least ten of Facebook's other most popular apps could be the subject of a Facebook privacy breach. The apps involved have allowed access to user's names and, in some cases, their friends' names to dozens of advertising and internet tracking companies.
According to an investigation by The Wall Street Journal, even those users who thought they had their privacy settings set at the strictest levels have been vulnerable. It is not yet clear how long the privacy breach existed, but the company made an announcement on Sunday, October 17, that they would work to "dramatically limit" potential exposure of personal information to outside sources.
The Journal reports that it discovered the top 10 Facebook apps were allowing user IDs to be transmitted to outside companies. The apps that were affected include FarmVille, Texas HoldEm Poker, FrontierVille, Phrases, Causes, Cafe World, MafiaWars, Quiz Planet, Treasure Isle and Heart.
So what exact information is being given to the outside companies? According to The Journal, the Facebook ID number (given to every Facebook user) has been passed on to the third party companies. This is of concern because the ID number can be used to access a user's name, even if their privacy settings are set so that all of their information is supposed to remain private. If a user did not use this level of security, the ID can give any information that is set to "everyone" including age, where the user lives, occupation and any posted pictures.
Who does the information go to? The Journal reports that "at least 25" data or ad firms had access to this information. One of data companies, RapLeaf Inc., reportedly added the Facebook ID's to its company database of online users, which it then sells to other companies. However, RapLeaf defended its action saying it was accidental. "We didn't do it on purpose," Joel Jewitt, vice president of business development for RapLeaf, told The Journal.
This kind of Facebook privacy breach could lead to just one more class action suit against the company, or possibly even the makers of the apps such as Zynga, who produces FarmVille, FrontierVille and Texas HoldEm, among others. Zynga has faced legal challenges over alleged scams linked to the purchase of game credits. For its part, Facebook has had to shut down projects such as Beacon, after being sued. Although the apps do ask for personal information before a user can join, a Zynga spokeswoman told The Journal the company has a strict policy against passing information to third parties.
The Journal reports that news of this dissemination of user IDs came just after the company announced it had created a control panel that lets users see which apps are accessing which categories of information about them.
According to Facebook, 70% of users use apps each month. On Facebook, you are what you app, so use wisely.