With the box office for “The Social Network” beginning to feel the effects of everyone in the social media industry already seeing it and the likelihood that the rest of the world doesn’t care, it’s time to get back to real business for Facebook. Oftentimes, though, real business and Facebook is more about what Facebook is supposedly doing ‘to’ people rather than ‘for’ them. Today is no exception.
Many of the most popular applications, or “apps,” on the social-networking site Facebook Inc. have been transmitting identifying information—in effect, providing access to people’s names and, in some cases, their friends’ names—to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.
The issue affects tens of millions of Facebook app users, including people who set their profiles to Facebook’s strictest privacy settings. The practice breaks Facebook’s rules, and renews questions about its ability to keep identifiable information about its users’ activities secure.
The rest of the article essentially says what we already know because we follow this stuff including major app / game developers like Zynga who are getting more data than they should. Anyone who looks at what apps in the Android store are looking at when you download them should know that supplying you with fun is not the end game for most developers. Why? Because they need to make a living too so the best thing they can sell is your data.
The problem has ties to the growing field of companies that build detailed databases on people in order to track them online—a practice the Journal has been examining in its What They Know series. It’s unclear how long the breach was in place. On Sunday, a Facebook spokesman said it is taking steps to “dramatically limit” the exposure of users’ personal information.
“A Facebook user ID may be inadvertently shared by a user’s Internet browser or by an application,” the spokesman said. Knowledge of an ID “does not permit access to anyone’s private information on Facebook,” he said, adding that the company would introduce new technology to contain the problem identified by the Journal.
Wait a minute. Hasn’t Facebook been taking steps like this all along? Apparently not. It’s hard to really know what Facebook is or is not doing and where they are actually doing or not doing it. It appears as if that rule #1 in their PR department is to be sure to “Baffle them with BS” which results in no one knowing if Facebook has or has not actually done anything substantial to protect users privacy.
As for the developers of these games that are taking your data and selling it? They must either be coached by Facebook or they learn well with their coy responses to inquiries about their perceived privacy transgressions.
Defenders of online tracking argue that this kind of surveillance is benign because it is conducted anonymously. In this case, however, the Journal found that one data-gathering firm, RapLeaf Inc., had linked Facebook user ID information obtained from apps to its own database of Internet users, which it sells. RapLeaf also transmitted the Facebook IDs it obtained to a dozen other firms, the Journal found.
RapLeaf said that transmission was unintentional. “We didn’t do it on purpose,” said Joel Jewitt, vice president of business development for RapLeaf.
Do you believe that explanation? I don’t but I have adopted the approach that I will error on the side of caution when it comes to these things. In the world of online privacy it is better to take the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach rather than the reverse.
So let’s face it. No mater how many people suck up to Mark Zuckerberg and claim that he is a nice guy who is trying to change the world blah, blah, blah (and there are seriously big industry names who like to publicly profess their admiration etc for Zuckerberg) the evidence points that underneath all the buzz, he likely has a black heart when it comes to privacy concerns.
What does that mean? It means he is playing like he cares about privacy when the company obviously doesn’t. How do I know that? I don’t but any company who continually says that they are not doing something then when they get caught with their hand in the privacy cookie jar they act all sheepish and say “We didn’t mean it” is just acting like the kid who tries to get away with everything. Always quick with the mea culpa when caught but right back at it once the interest dies down.
So don’t expect the term Facebook privacy to ever mean anything. They need your data to make money. It’s that simple. As a result do you think that Facebook and its entire ecosystem are going to just stop trying to get your data? I hope you’re not that gullible no matter how ‘nice’ the real Mark Zuckerberg is or is not.
(UPDATE: To be fair read the ‘response’ from Facebook to its developer community. I feel like it’s more PR CYA but we’ll see.)