Facebook admits privacy breaches
Facebook has become embroiled in another privacy controversy after confirming that millions of items of personal information were being shared without users’ consent.
The social networking site blamed popular third-party applications for violating its rules and transmitting identifying information to advertising and internet tracking companies.
“In most cases, developers did not intend to pass this information, but did so because of the technical details of how browsers work,” Facebook engineer Mike Vernal said in a blog post.
“We are talking with our key partners and the broader web community about possible solutions.”
Mr Vernal said press reports had exaggerated the implications of the situation and that getting user identification (UID) information did not provide access to private data without express permission.
“Nevertheless, we are committed to ensuring that even the inadvertent passing of UIDs is prevented and all applications are in compliance with our policy,” he added.
“We take strong measures to enforce this policy, including suspending and disabling applications that violate it.”
His comments came after a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) investigation which found that the issue affects tens of millions of Facebook application users – including people who set their profiles to be completely private.
The practice breaks Facebook’s rules and renews questions about its ability to keep secure identifiable information about the activities of its members.
“Our policy is very clear about protecting user data, ensuring that no one can access private user information without explicit user consent,” Mr Vernal said.
“Further, developers cannot disclose user information to ad networks and data brokers.”
The WSJ said applications were providing access to Facebook members’ names and, in some cases, their friends’ names, to companies that build detailed databases on people in order to track them online.
All of the 10 most popular applications on Facebook were transmitting unique user ID numbers to outside companies, it said. They include Zynga’s FarmVille, with 59 million users, Texas HoldEm Poker and FrontierVille.
The WSJ said several applications became unavailable to Facebook users after the newspaper informed the California-based social network that they were transmitting personal information.
Facebook is the world’s most popular social network with around 500 million users but has faced persistent complaints about privacy protection.