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Facebook apps caught farming user information

By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

A recent investigation by the Wall Street Journal revealed that all ten of the most popular apps on Facebook have been leaking Facebook user’s ID numbers (UID’s) to outside advertising and data collection firms. Moreover, three of these top apps, including the hugely successful Farmville, which has 80 million users, are potentially sharing information about users and their friends.

This revelation came just a month after the popular social network celebrated 500 million users and the story of what many consider to be the world’s most popular website today, was immortalized on the big screen in The Social Network, a successful hollywood movie. The privacy breach could affect tens of millions of Facebook devotees who have organized their lives around the popular social network to connect with friends and family. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the (apps) practice breaks Facebook’s rules, and renews questions about its ability to keep identifiable information about its users’ activities secure.”

The Wall Street journal’s findings revealed that the apps in question were sending Facebook UID’s to at least 25 data collection and advertising firms. Facebook’s reaction to the investigation has been a dismissive one which downplayed the privacy threat. “Press reports have exaggerated the implications of sharing a UID,” wrote Facebook engineer Mike Vernal.

“Knowledge of a UID does not enable anyone to access private user information without explicit user consent. Nevertheless, we are committed to ensuring that even the inadvertent passing of UIDs is prevented and all applications are in compliance with our policy.”

Facebook now has to deal with the offending apps and their developers to ensure these leaks are plugged so as not to affect user privacy. UID numbers can reveal a Facebook user’s name as well as other information that could lead to potential privacy issues.

This issue apparently affects even users with the most stringent privacy settings. Access to the ID of a Facebook user who shares information with “Everyone” may lead to access to his/her name, phone number, e-mail, photos and other personal info as well as lead in to their Facebook friends.

This latest in a string of privacy related fiascos to affect Facebook which has weathered many of the earlier criticisms that it does what it want with user information, even after Facebook users shut down their accounts and stop using the service.

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