Business - Written by Lawrence Chen on Sunday, June 22, 2008 16:02 - 11 Comments
Privacy Concerns with Facebook Applications
Last week, The Washington Post published an article about potential privacy concerns that result from using Facebook applications. Facebook greatly increased their popularity by letting users add custom functionality to their Facebook profile by installing application widgets — of which there are nearly 30,000 available.
However, many people do not realize that by adding these applications, they’re giving the applications (and therefore the application’s developer(s)) access to their personal information — irrespective of any privacy settings that a user may choose. Given that Facebook is an open platform where anyone can write an application, users are effectively giving complete strangers a slew of personal information.
My guess is that people are so willing to add these applications because they don’t know that their information is being collected, or they believe that all applications are vetted for by Facebook—they aren’t. Whenever you install an application, you confirm that you grant the application and its author access to some of your information, but what information can the developer see? Everything you put into the site.
I’m curious to see how incidents like this one are going to affect the transition from traditional desktop software to web-based software. We’re seeing many people and businesses ditch their desktop software in favor of web-based programs (see this article from PRWeb this week), but a factor that is slowing this trend down is the fact that many people are wary of trusting the internet with their personal information and data. While it appears that many people aware of these potential privacy concerns, there are also many people that don’t mind the situation, or, more likely, don’t know about it. Do businesses have an obligation to explicitly (or, even more explicitly) spell out the privacy concerns for their users? Could privacy concerns of this nature stunt the growth of social networking sites? I’m not sure, but I’ll definitely think twice before I install a new Facebook application.
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