Some Facebook Apps Are Still Too Greedy For User Data

Some Facebook applications are still taking more user data than they really need.

The Wall Street Journal examined 100 popular Facebook apps, including its own WSJ Social, and found several instances of app developers requesting information that appeared to have nothing to do with their apps.

It should be noted that Facebook users must grant permission for apps to access and share their information, and developers must specify what types of data they will mine on the screen where users grant permission. It should also be noted, however, that many apps request access to users’ friends’ data, and those friends are not contacted for permission, nor are they alerted that their information will be used.

Some of the information requested by apps studied by the Journal included:

  • Email address;
  • Current location;
  • Sexual preference;
  • Religious views;
  • Political views;
  • Facebook photos; and
  • Birthdays.

And some of the newspaper’s app-specific findings were:

  • A Yahoo service powered by Facebook seeks access to users’ religious and political views; Yahoo told the Journal the information was being collected to customize content, with a spokeswoman adding, “Data that are shared with Yahoo are managed carefully.”
  • MyPad for the iPad asked for the most information of any app surveyed by the Journal, and it said in its two-paragraph privacy policy that it is “adding privacy settings shortly.”
  • Apps including quiz games Between You and Me and Truths About You sought the sexual preferences of users and their friends, details that are not necessary in the operation of the apps, and the Journal said the developer of Between You and Me cut down the amount of data it requested after being contacted by the newspaper.
  • Skype offered the same answer as Yahoo about customizing content for users when asked why it sought the Facebook pictures and birthdays of users and their friends on the social network.
  • “Dozens” of apps allow non-Facebook-approved advertisers, and enable those advertisers to track users.
  • A Journal spokeswoman said of WSJ Social that the newspaper only sought basic profile information and email addresses to make the app work.

Why are app developers seeking access to so much data? Brendan Wallace, co-founder of career-networking app Identified, which was not part of the Journal‘s research, said his app collects each user’s birthday, city, education, and work history, as well as the same data from their friends, and, while he is unsure how the information will be used, “Data is what anyone wants access to.”

Facebook responded with the following statement:

We’re focused on helping people make informed decisions about the apps they choose to use. App developers agree to our policies when they register. If we find an app has violated our policies — through our automated systems, internal policy teams, or user reports — we take action.

The social network has previously had to crack down on user information sharing by advertisers and third-party developers to address recent controversies. Among the most recent of these was the brouhaha over data brokering by RapLeaf in late 2010, which impelled Facebook to kick said outfit off of the site and ultimately motivated the Federal Trade Commission to get involved.

It’s too early to tell what the Journal’s latest discovery might lead to in the way of possible crackdowns on data misuse, but the stakes are definitely higher now with the impending initial public offer.

Readers: Do you think Facebook users need to exercise more caution about granting permission to share data with applications?

Share globe image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Related Stories
Mediabistro Course

Web Analytics

Web AnalyticsStarting July 30, master Google Analytics to build traffic and increase sales for your brand! In this course, you'll learn how to use metrics to develop a digital strategy for your business, determine what to look for in analytics reports, use your findings to improve your online initiatives and more. Register now!