Facebook games privacy breach: Farmville, Texas HoldEm, other games release user data

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/blog-post/2010/10/facebook_games_privacy_breach.html

 

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Update, 3:50 p.m.

The Post’s Rob Pegoraro says the whole breach is more of a molehill than a mountain.

To me, this whole episode confirms two general principles to remember when thinking about electronic privacy breaches.1) Data will leak by accident for a variety of benign reasons: Developers used the same technique that worked before; they assumed all their users kept the default settings; they didn’t factor in how older software would behave, and so on.

2) Some companies won’t resist the temptation to use data they weren’t supposed to see.

Read his whole take here.

8:00 a.m.

Facebook admitted to a privacy breach affecting tens of millions of Facebook users this Sunday.

After a Wall Street Journal investigation, the social media network admitted that certain apps–including some from its top 10 most popular apps, such as Farmville and Texas HoldEm–had been transmitting user IDs to advertising and Internet-tracking companies.

Facebook responded to the issue last night with a post on its developers’ blog saying that the problem had only recently come to the site’s attention. “In most cases, developers did not intend to pass this information, but did so because of the technical details of how browsers work,” the posting said.

Officials representing Facebook and most of the apps said they had no idea the breach was occurring. Facebook did shut down LOLapps Media, one app company, that had been transmitting user IDs, on Friday.

It could very well be a glitch in the system of which Facebook was unaware. However, a very similar glitch was exposed in May by another Wall Street Journal article.

When a user clicked on an ad, the advertising company was able to see the last page viewed by that user. Called a “referer,” these pages help sites know how a user got to their page. The Wall Street Journal calls referers “one of the Web’s enduring privacy weak links.”

Many times, a referer page will not expose any private information. But if the referer page is a person’s personal Facebook page, advertising companies can see private information, even when privacy settings are in place.

A lawsuit is now underway in California courts, on the heels of the first discovery of the privacy breach, alleging that Facebook violated federal and California law when it sent data to advertisers without consent.

Facebook has not said it has solved the privacy gap, only that officials are working to do so. In the meantime, the best option for users is to take another look at their privacy settings and tighten up their virtual belts.

The company has long been dogged by privacy concerns. On the heels of this latest exposure, Germany’s consumer affairs minister Ilse Aigner criticized the company for a “series of dubious practices”.

Here’s two ways to ensure more privacy on Facebook:

Give up the farming, get back to work.

Go to Privacy Settings — > Applications, Games and Websites — > Unwanted or spammy applications — > Click the “x” next to each application you do not use.

Limit what your friends share about you.

Go to Privacy Settings — > Applications, Games and Websites — > Info accessible through your friends — > Edit Settings — > Uncheck all boxes and save changes.

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