Facebook is embroiled in controversy again after a Wall Street Journal report discovered that most of the website’s most popular third-party applications, including such popular games as Farmville and Texas Hold Em poker, were found to be giving away personal information about users. According to the report, several of Facebook’s top third-party application developers broke Facebook rules by collecting User IDs and sending them to third-party advertisers and information brokers. However, it is possible to learn how to use Facebook apps and maintain your privacy.
The Facebook User ID (UID) is a string of numbers associated with each individual Facebook user’s account. If you have an individual’s Facebook UID, you have access to their name and, potentially, the names of their friends. Depending on a user’s privacy settings, having a Facebook UID is enough to gain access to an individual’s entire account, including photos, status updates, shared items, and more.
Although Facebook initially disabled some of the apps highlighted in the Wall Street Journal report, they have been reactivated. According to a Facebook blog post, the company is working to correct the problem quickly. However, it won’t necessarily be an easy problem to fix.
According to Facebook statistics, more than 70 percent of Facebook users engage with Facebook’s more than 550,000 active platform applications every month. Those are huge numbers and they show quite clearly that apps have become an integral part of the Facebook experience.
So, how do you use Facebook apps and maintain your personal privacy? Here are some tips.
Avoid spam and scam apps.
Apps offer the easiest entry point for hackers, spammers, and scammers, so when you’re looking at new applications, make sure you are extra suspicious.
One classic spammer trick is to create an application that offers some kind of salacious surprise if you download the app. Generally, these phony apps will say something like, “You won’t believe this!” or “You have to see this to believe it!” Spam apps may also feature an attractive individual, usually a woman, who baits users into clicking to “see more.”
If you get a request from a friend to download an application like these, think twice before clicking yes. Facebook spam attacks spread quickly because users assume that something their friend would send them is okay, when actually it is a spambot sending out messages. You should always be alert and use discretion about what applications you accept on Facebook. It’s the best way to avoid an embarrassing and reputation-damaging invasion of privacy.
Utilize your Facebook privacy settings.
In response to previous privacy flaps, Facebook rolled out a fairly robust system of privacy controls last year. These privacy controls allow Facebook users to limit the data that they share on their Facebook profiles to just friends, friends of friends, or everyone in the world, with varying degrees of granularity if you want to protect your updates from one individual in particular.
Facebook’s privacy controls also offer the opportunity to restrict and disable third-party applications. If you accidentally downloaded an application, or you feel concerned about how a specific application might be affecting your personal data, go into your Facebook privacy settings, and turn off the applications manually.
In the Facebook Age, your name and your identity are your most important commodities. Remember, the information that you share online can and will be used by advertisers. The keys to maintaining your privacy online are control and choice. You should always be able to control how your information is being shared online, and you should make a conscious choice to share it.