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.
What? Farmville is one of the offending apps?
The apps, ranked by research company Inside Network Inc. (based on monthly users), include Zynga Game Network Inc.'s FarmVille, with 59 million users, and Texas HoldEm Poker and FrontierVille. Three of the top 10 apps, including FarmVille, also have been transmitting personal information about a user's friends to outside companies.
Most apps aren't made by Facebook, but by independent software developers. Several apps became unavailable to Facebook users after the Journal informed Facebook that the apps were transmitting personal information; the specific reason for their unavailability remains unclear.
Privacy and Facebook is always weird. Facebook hides their privacy settings fairly well and they have a tendancy to make sharing the default option. Despite how much I use Facebook, I try to keep a lot of information about myself off the site (kinda funny, coming from someone who uses his real name as his blog URL). For instance, I have a bunch of friends who show up in my feed as "liking" a whole host of products and shows (oreos, Lost, Jack Johnson, etc). This is something I do not and will not do; you're basically giving your information away to marketing companies. I'll pass.
But I love Facebook, I really do. I use it as my email (I don't have nearly all of my friends email addresses, but I'm friends with them on Facebook), chat service (no more AIM) and for just general socializing purposes. I've never use Facebook for games (mostly because I already waste enough time online) but distrust of the third party companies definitely plays a role (HINT: Farmville is evil).