The Journal stated in their article, Facebook in Privacy Breach, that many of the most popular applications on the site are transmitting personal information about you and even your friends to third party advertisers and data companies. Apps such as BumperSticker, Marketplace, or Zynga’s Farmville (with over 50 million users) can be sharing your Facebook User ID with these companies. This can give as little information as your name, or as much as your entire Facebook Profile. In some cases, your data is being shared even if you have set your Facebook privacy settings to disallow this type of sharing.
According to the Journal:
“The most expansive use of Facebook user information uncovered by the Journal involved RapLeaf. The San Francisco Company compiles and sells profiles of individuals based in part on their online activities.. The Journal found that some LOLapps applications, as well as the Family Tree application, were transmitting user’s Facebook ID numbers to RapLeaf. RapLeaf then linked those ID numbers to dossiers it had previously assembled on those individuals… RapLeaf then embedded that information in an Internet-tracking file known as a cookie.”
RapLeaf in turn transmitted this Facebook ID and user information to a dozen other advertising firms.
Rapleaf has said that it was inadvertent and they are working to fix the data leakage problem. On their website they have posted a response to the article.
“RapLeaf has taken extra steps to strip out identifying information from referrer URLs…When we discovered that Facebook IDs were being passed to ad networks by applications that we work with, we immediately researched the cause and implemented a solution to cease the transmissions. As of last week, no Facebook IDs are being transmitted to ad networks in conjunction with the use of any RapLeaf service”.
This Facebook privacy breach is affecting tens of millions of users and even those that have taken the proper precautions with high privacy settings.
This revelation goes against my latest post Facebook, Cigarettes and Information Control. I used this post to make users aware that although there are privacy issues with Facebook, they have given you the proper controls to protect yourself. The Wall Street Journal investigation clearly shows that Facebook is not doing their part. While you can supposedly better secure your privacy settings after last week, Facebook is clearly not holding their third party applications to the same standard.
“Our technical systems have always been complimented by strong policy enforcement, and we will continue to rely on both to keep people in control of their information.”
Many wonder if there is there anything you can do to prevent this or protect themselves from personal data leakage. The answer right now – is no. Because many of the most popular applications used on Facebook are transmitting your personal data, it is hard to do much more than adjust your privacy settings to the highest level and realize that you are trading the security and privacy of your personal information in order to connect with your Facebook friends. This is where Facebook needs to step up and deliver on what they promise their users. If you go the extra mile to hide your personal information from third parties, they need to make sure that your information is protected.