Are Facebook Applications A Privacy Disaster In The Making?

from the promiscuous-sharing dept

I’ve become steadily less enthralled with Facebook applications as I’ve become more familiar with them. In theory, a platform strategy is a great idea — indeed, few tech companies have been really successful without building platforms that other companies can leverage to dramatically increase the value of the whole ecosystem. But not every platform strategy will necessarily be a success. And often, the crucial thing that separates a successful platform strategy from an unsuccessful one is the ability to design a good interface between the core technology and the add-on functionality. If the interface is too limited, other companies won’t be able to do anything with the platform. Conversely, if the interface is too expansive, it can allow the entire platform to descend into a chaotic mess, as shoddy add-on products can undermine the reputation of the entire ecosystem. It appears that Facebook’s application platform is in danger of falling into the latter trap.

Chris Soghoian has a great post arguing that Facebook’s permissive policies regarding application access to user data poses a serious threat to user privacy that could seriously damage Facebook’s reputation. Soghoian says that applications are given access not just to all of a given user’s information (much of which is unnecessary for the application to perform its functions) but also to a lot of information about a user’s friends, many of whom will not have consented to have their information shared with random third-party applications. There’s is a page buried deep in the Facebook preferences that allows users to disable your friends’ applications from accessing this information about you, but the information is shared by default, and the page isn’t going to win any awards for clarity. The situation poses a serious problem for Facebook. On the one hand, it has an obligation to preserve their users’ privacy. On the other hand, it desperately wants to enhance the functionality of the Facebook platform and prove that it’s more than a toy for college kids. An overly-restrictive privacy policy could make it impossible for anyone to develop the killer app Facebook craves. I’m not sure exactly where to draw the line, but I think Soghoian is right that the current system has too few safeguards against the misues of private information by third-party applications.

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Companies: facebook

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Comments on “Are Facebook Applications A Privacy Disaster In The Making?”

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28 Comments
Buzz says:

RIP Apps

The sad thing about applications is that, as mentioned above, they were a really good idea in theory. They offer much by way of potential, and there are several applications that I like! However, the temptation was too great for many developers, and they decided to have their applications automatically invite everyone on a friend list repeatedly without the carrier’s consent. I receive three “Heroes Abilities” invites from the same person every day, but I don’t think he even knows it is happening.

Ron says:

Buzz is right

There is a huge problem with controlling what an app can or can’t do, and it’s true that an app can spam your friends without you knowing about it. I had a problem with the Movie Quiz application, it asked to invite my friends, I clicked No, and it did so anyway. When I wrote to the developer, they responded that it was “a known bug.”

Let me see, you have an app that goes to someone’s contact list and, against their will, inserts itself into those contacts’ environments? I am pretty sure outside of Facebook that is called a “worm.”

And Facebook can’t do anything to control it. I think this will be the thing that kills the platform.

Chatterbox says:

Privacy. What Privacy?

I agree with Anon as far as zipping the lip or here, stifling the urge to tell-all in posts on MySpace or Facebook. And, our youth will become victims time and time again—kicks and giggles by way of seemingly childish games will imprint upon their life journey. Bad news all the way around from a developmental, social and safety perspective.

But, privacy went out the window long before these relative newcomers– electronic medical records, drivers information, courtesy cards and so on— privacy problems and spam, including that mystery meat sold in grocery stores, has been with us for some time.

So, protect yourself the best you can…oh, and being a good, honest joe helps.

illegalprelude says:

The reason I used to like Facebook over myspace was that it was clean and simple. Now, its this huge cluster fuck of everytime a friend sends something, you have to add it your profile and then send that request to twenty other people and it asks you “do you wanna post this, do you wanna do this and that” so its just random shit happening lol

Chirag Mehta (user link) says:

Monetizing social networks and preserving privacy

Monetizing efforts do ruffle some feathers on the way since it is intertwined with other factors such as privacy, data portability, and experience design. The Facebook’s experience design keeps applications’ users inside of Facebook but at the same time provide the necessary, or sometimes unnecessary, access to user’s data to the application providers. This has set off some debates around privacy concerns. Access to user’s data and open architecture is a key to increased adoption that can potentially lead to monetization, but Facebook needs to be careful here not to piss of the users. Compare this with Google few years back where Google made a conscious decision to keep the search results rank clean (do no evil) and that strategy paid off when Google started monetizing via AdSense.

I have a detailed post on my blog http://cloudcomputing.blogspot.com/2008/02/monetizing-social-networks-and.html

bebodevelopers (user link) says:

business application

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myidealpakistan (user link) says:

application software

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Facebook Applications (user link) says:

This would be nice if it actually worked. I had my mother block me from application updates on her facebook and I still see her horoscope crap.

It would be better to just allow users to block ALL applications from showing up in their status updates for everyone. This way I don’t have to ask each and every friend who uses farmville to manually block me from applications.

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