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Facebook Under Fire… Again?

Melissa Broussard

With the recent release of “The Social Network”, Facebook is getting even more attention from the media than usual. Most of the coverage surrounding the story behind Mark Zuckerberg and his social phenomenon has been positive, however a recent report featured on the front page of Monday's Wall Street Journal overshadows the Hollywood hype and brings Facebook back to reality.

The report highlights some serious oversights in the confidentiality department and renews the (seemingly) endless string of snafus with Facebook’s lengthy privacy policy. According to The Wall Street Journal’s investigation, all 10 of the most popular applications on Facebook have been sharing user’s personal information, via their unique user ID numbers, with several advertising and online tracking companies. Among these top-ranked “apps” are the virtual-reality game FarmVille with nearly 60 million users, Texas HoldEm Poker with 36.3 million users and the role-playing game, Mafia Wars with 22 million users. This security breach puts tens of millions of Facebook users at risk… and the worst part? Not even the strictest of privacy settings can protect you.

How much user information has been shared by the applications under investigation is unclear, but it’s important to remember that no matter how tight your privacy settings appear to be, you are still posting personal information on the World Wide Web- an action which is innately public. Whether sharing with your close friends and family or a somewhat wider network, the risk is always there (especially as the world of commerce moves to the Web).

Today’s Facebook is more than a just a way to keep up with friends; it’s a powerful, revenue-generating, marketing tool. With over 500 million users to date, the social-networking site is a prime location for businesses to both find and reach out to their target audiences. Almost every business and/or brand has a page for users to “Become a Fan” and the string of strangely relevant advertisements next to your news feed or profile are just another attempt to reach you, the ideal consumer.

The applications charged with passing user information to third parties have been either suspended or disabled by Facebook, but as avid Facebook and Facebook app users, online shoppers and bloggers, we’ve all learned a valuable lesson: Read the fine print before you click! And for the marketers out there, make sure you explain privacy settings and the like; otherwise you may run the risk of alienating clients/users down the road.

So my question is this: How is the recent Facebook news affecting your use of Facebook apps?