Facebook information leak worries experts

By Don Logana - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - If you're on Facebook, you know there's plenty of information posted, even if you try to keep things relatively private.

If you own a farm in Farmville, or are in an online mafia, you might need to pay attention.

Facebook says it is now aware of 10 popular Facebook applications, including Farmville and Mafia Wars, which have been taking your information and sending it to advertisers and internet tracking companies.

Even if your profile is completely private, your page may still be at risk.

"It is something that is not new to Facebook, but in this case it is something that really hits home," Eric Sharpe, Digital Doc, told WTOC.

Sharpe is a computer expert, with his own company, www.digitaldocllc.com
, and a Facebook user. He is well aware of Facebook's latest privacy situation.

"These games have basically been collecting your information. But now it has been leaked to advertisers," Sharpe said.

Games, like Mafia Wars, Farmville and others ask for you to allow them access to your profile.

"If you sign up for an application, you are allowing them to view a certain amount of your information. Sometimes, all of it," he said. "When you join an application. They will ask permission of you to get access to your information. It's really up to you. It's your choice."

Sharpe says those who choose not to block these types of applications, are putting their privacy at risk, at their own hands.

Facebook tells WTOC they are aware of the leaks, but say companies have told them the information has not been used or abused. Facebook does plan to introduce new technical systems that will dramatically limit the sharing of user id's.

From Facebook:

As part of our work to provide people with control over their information, we've learned that the design and operation of the Internet doesn't always provide the greatest control that is technically possible.  For example, in the Spring, it was brought to our attention that Facebook user IDs may be inadvertently included in the URL referrer sent to advertisers.  Here, WSJ has uncovered the same issue on Facebook Platform where a Facebook user ID may be inadvertently shared by a user's Internet browser or by an application delivering content to a user.

While knowledge of user ID does not permit access to anyone's private information on Facebook, we plan to introduce new technical systems that will dramatically limit the sharing of User ID's. This is an even more complicated technical challenge than the similar issue we successfully addressed last Spring, but one that we are committed to addressing.  Our technical systems have always been complemented by strong policy enforcement, and we will continue to rely on both to keep people in control of their information.

It is important to note that there is no evidence that any personal information was misused or even collected as a result of this issue.  In fact, all of the companies questioned about this issue said publicly that they did not use the user IDs or did not use them to obtain personal info.  

Sharpe says you can go into your privacy settings and at least check what information is public or not.

"You have to understand, it is your information and whether or not you think it's private, it could go public anytime," Sharpe said.

Read the Developer Blog on Facebook at developers.facebook.com/blog/post/418.

The investigation into the Facebook privacy breach was done by the Wall Street Journal. Read their original article at online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304772804575558484075236968.html.

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