Surprise! Your Facebook Data is for Sale

Give Facebook points for bringing this to public attention before the media got to it first. Now subtract those points for giving us as little information about this matter as humanly possible.

Here's what I want to know:

  • Facebook has in the neighborhood of 550,000 apps. Has the company really checked the data-sharing habits of all of them? If not, how many apps have been vetted? The top 100? 200? 1,000? Which ones have been vetted, and how would anyone else know?
  • Which apps are guilty? Telling us that "fewer than a dozen" developers were involved, without telling us which ones, merely protects the guilty -- and does nothing for the people who've installed those apps and have a right to know. Even other app developers are calling for this information to be made public, because otherwise they're guilty by association.
  • What data brokers bought this information? To whom did they sell it? Are people getting targeted ads (or spam, junk mail, and telemarketing calls) as a result?
  • What does that "6-month full moratorium on their access to Facebook communication channels" mean exactly? That they will disappear from the Facebook apps pages? That they will go dark? And why six months? It's like Facebook is sending them to bed without dinner.
  • Will Rapleaf continue to scrape data from Facebook pages and include it in its profiles? Will it continue to share its data with Facebook advertisers? How cozy were Rapleaf and Facebook in the first place?
  • Where does this end? (See centipede, shoes above.)

Now contrast Vernal's statement with one of the comments attached to his blog post, which accuses an unnamed app developer of actively trying to sell Facebook users' private information to the Washington Times:

Please check in with the Washington Times about the developer who was approaching in them [sic] in early 2008 to resell Facebook user data. I ended up at a table at a conference, as this facebook app developer was trying to sell them a contract for data. I never got his name or the app---but the Washington Times' web/media team might remember him. He was specifically selling demographic information and IP addresses/locations of users to media companies so they could correlate age/sex/demographic/location for their advertisers.

This is the real issue. Is this a common practice? Does Facebook even know about this incident?

This is why I don't use Facebook apps and discourage others from doing so. I've seen too many that seem designed entirely for this purpose -- regardless of Facebook's written policies and pious statements to the contrary. I don't think the company has a clue of what's going on. For a service that claims 500 million+ members and wants to change the very nature of the Web, it's well past time Facebook got one.

Does Facebook have a clue? Weigh in below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Surprise! Your Facebook data is for sale," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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