This morning the Wall Street Journal published some interesting findings concerning Facebook apps and privacy concerns. Namely, that these apps have been publishing both users', and in some cases users' friends', names to internet advertising and tracking companies.
Among the companies implicated in these findings were Zynga, who is well-known for its Farmville and Frontierville games, and LOLapps, . The latter was actually down for a while on Facebook, having been cited as violating Facebook terms. They have since released a statement stating they are already working on the issue.
Now, so as to be certain, many of these apps are also pleading ignorance of this happening, having Facebook's own dev blog state, "In most cases, developers did not intend to pass this information, but did so because of the technical details of how browsers work." As for the long-term implications? Facebook has been fighting a constant battle over privacy concerns, and these companies are obligated to comply in these instances.
As this blog post by Forbes notes, the problem inherent is that from the beginning this has changed how these companies can work in their viral marketing plans. Instead of being able to bombard others' with your constant stream, there have to be more concerted, traditional marketing efforts to bring their games into users' accounts.
Zynga has responded to the WSJ's findings, stating, "Zynga has a strict policy of not passing personally identifiable information to any third parties. We look forward to working with Facebook to refine how web technologies work to keep people in control of their information."
The Journal has been conducting the research that unearthed this information in order to study the practice of companies to build online databases in order to track their users' online activities. Stated to them by Facebook:
"A Facebook user ID may be inadvertently shared by a user's Internet browser or by an application," the spokesman said. Knowledge of an ID "does not permit access to anyone's private information on Facebook," he said, adding that the company would introduce new technology to contain the problem identified by the Journal.
"Our technical systems have always been complemented by strong policy enforcement, and we will continue to rely on both to keep people in control of their information," the Facebook official said.
Some will then argue that since this information is mostly anonymous, there is no harm in such research being conducted. As WSJ points out, however, one of these companies is RapLeaf Inc., which linked their Facebook mined data to their own, which it sells; they also have shared this information with at least twelve other firms, who have stated they did not collect, save, or use the information in any way. As with the game developers, RapLeaf also stated ignorance of this having happened.