New App Grades Facebook Apps on Privacy

When someone plays Zynga’s Words with Friends on Facebook they obviously expect to share that experience with whichever Facebook contact they play against. However, by authorizing Words with Friends--or other Facebook apps--users might be sharing much more than they’re aware of.

Facebook is a social network. By definition, the point of being on Facebook at all is to share with others. However, people like to choose which information to share, and who to share it with--they’re funny that way. Apps that collect or share information without the explicit consent of the user are shady, and infringe on the privacy users expect.

Some app developers do a much better job than others at protecting user privacy.
Jim Brock, founder and CEO of PrivacyChoice, explains in a blog post, “Facebook doesn’t control or enforce app privacy practices, so it’s up to users to know the privacy risk of sharing personal data with apps.”

To help users help themselves PrivacyChoice has launched PrivacyScore--a privacy report card that grades Facebook apps on how well they respect the user’s privacy. PrivacyScore is a Facebook app as well. You simply type in the name of the app you want to check, and PrivacyScore will return a grade between 1 and 100. The PrivacyScore rating considers a variety of factors, including the privacy policies of the app vendor, and how the app handles personal data.

Don’t bother trying to get a grade on PrivacyScore itself. The PrivacyChoice started out indexing and rating the most popular apps, and does not have comprehensive coverage of all Facebook apps. Its FAQ claims that it is continuing to expand its app coverage.

In addition to the PrivacyScore app, PrivacyChoice also unveiled a overall grades comparing the top app publishers, and provided a Facebook Tracking Heatmap. Leading the pack of app publishers is Playdom, with a rating of 93 out of 100. Electronic Arts got a 91, and Zynga received an 82. PrivacyChoice says the average score across all Facebook apps is a C-plus--not great when you’re talking about protecting personal privacy.

The heatmap uses real-time data and analytics from PrivacyChoice to generate a visual representation of privacy risk across hundreds of Facebook apps. Orange and red zones on the heatmap highlight companies that pose an increased privacy risk.

Facebook has repeatedly tweaked app behavior and developer requirements to make them more secure, and it continues to respond aggressively when apps are found to violate privacy guidelines. A tool like PrivacyScore can give users some ability to police privacy for themselves as well, though.

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