Thursday, August 27, 2009

Subtle Subversive Facebook Applications

I just received a request from my uncle on Facebook. This request was interesting because it shows up just like any other friend or even request in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

At first, I thought wow, cool, Facebook has a feature to relate me to other family members. But then after clicking on the '1 add relative request' link, I quickly realized that this is not Facebook, but instead it is a third party application.

This gave me concern because I'm developing a Facebook application myself and I know exactly what sort of information an application gets about you (and all your friends) as soon as you allow access to this application. Even the ACLU has gotten into the action.

The thing is that there is currently over 19 MILLION people using this application, which has been declared a "Facebook Verified App" (which you have to pay $375/yr. for). However, if you look more closely, out of 5760 reviews, it only has a rating of 1.6 out of 5. By reading the discussion board for the application, it seems like quite a few people don't like it. It also seems to me that if only 5760 people have reviewed it out of 19 million people using it, it is clear that most people don't even understand (or care) that it is a third party application, not even written by Facebook. 19 million people also seem to ignore the fact that it only has 1.5 stars when they allow access to it.

Upon further investigation, there is some other interesting stuff going on. For instance, did you realize that is in private beta? What do you think they are doing with all the information they are gleaning from you? Their privacy policy basically says that they are going to do whatever they want with the information that you 'give' them and that they will even send you notifications about services offered by FamilyLink as well as... you guessed it... advertisements.

Digging further into FamilyLink, it is clear to me that this company is based around data mining. They are very much into selling the information they gleam from you and Facebook, with its user base of over 200 million members has become the perfect launching platform for this to happen. Then we can dig into who is behind the company... Paul Allen (the lesser), who is a mormon. You know, the religion that hates same sex marriage.

Just like you have been trained to be careful about which applications you download off the internets, I think people also need to be trained to be careful about which applications they agree to allow into their Facebook profiles. I also think that Facebook needs to be better about ensuring these applications aren't doing bad things.


Sam said...

Facebook painted themselves into a corner when they declared that they would revolutionize advertising. Really it's the same old thing but worse. At least you can tell what's an ad in a magazine. They've become Sturch (church and state mashup).


exuberance said...

Ending and owning your privacy is Facebook's business model. It's privacy theater. Unless of course you meant to suggest that they might want to prevent that application from taking private data which Facebook had intended to take unto it's self.

Jon Scott Stevens said...

Ben, my point is that there is very little transparency when it comes to third party applications. People who aren't aware of what they are doing are adding these apps and really have no idea that they are agreeing to a third party privacy policy.