Remember all the hullaballoo in October over The Wall Street Journal's report that third-party Facebook developers were leaking user information to Internet tracking firms? Turns out those privacy concerns may have been justified. Facebook recently acknowledged that some developers were deliberately selling user IDs (UIDs) to data brokerage firms. UIDs are uniquely identifying numbers that can be used to find your Facebook profile and any profile information you have made publicly available.
You and Your Facebook UID
At a minimum, knowing your UID can show someone your name and Facebook likes, but many users also leave other information public such as their location and friends list. The brokers could use any information they find on your Facebook profile and sell it to advertisers.
Facebook says "fewer than a dozen" Facebook application developers were selling UIDs to data brokerage firms. As a result of their naughty behavior, the data-selling developers have been suspended from Facebook for six months. Facebook will also audit the developers to make sure they don't sell Facebook user information again. The social network also says it is working on a technical solution to make it impossible for developers to leak UIDs in the future.
Facebook didn't name the developers or the applications they produced, but the company did say they were "mostly small" Facebook application makers and none were behind the top 10 applications on Facebook.
Facebook's Privacy Problems
Facebook has long been criticized over how it manages user data and privacy. Shortly after the social network's developer conference in April, the company came under fire for allowing developers to store user data indefinitely. Previously, developers could only hold user data for 24 hours. The Electronic Privacy Information Center along with 14 other consumer protection groups in May launched a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over Facebook's treatment of user privacy. In October, Congressmen Edward Markey (D., Mass.) and Joe Barton (R., Texas) sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about concerns surrounding third-party developers leaking information to advertising and tracking firms.
Some of Facebook's partners have also been pulled into the social network's latest privacy scandal. Popular Facebook developer Zynga--the company behind games such as Farmville and Mafia Wars--was recently the target of a class-action lawsuit over its alleged treatment of Facebook user data.
Facebook Privacy Scandal or Much Ado About Nothing?
Even if you account for the fact that some developers were selling user IDs to data brokerage firms, it is debatable about how serious this so-called privacy breach really is. Knowing your user ID cannot reveal any private information you have on Facebook, and some have likened knowing your UID to finding your name and address in the phone book. Regardless, it is reassuring to hear that Facebook has zero tolerance for data leakers and is punishing those who violated Facebook's policies and sold UIDs to outside firms.