Disclosure: I have worked for the Washington Post; I have also worked with some of the groups quoted in the story on privacy and security questions surrounding social networking sites.
“Facebook fanatics who have covered their profiles on the popular social networking site with silly games and quirky trivia quizzes may be unknowingly giving a host of strangers an intimate peek at their lives,” reports the Washington Post. A couple of weeks ago, the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (“CIPPIC”) filed a complaint (pdf) against Facebook alleging 22 violations of Canadian law (which I blogged about here). The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has launched an investigation. The BBC discusses security vulnerabilities in these applications here. CNet News and others have reported on the problems surrounding this kind of data-gathering from social networking sites and third-party application creators.
According to the Post:
[M]ini-programs, called widgets or applications, allow users to personalize their pages and connect with friends and acquaintances. But they could pose privacy risks. Some security researchers warn that developers of the software have assembled too much information — home town, schools attended, employment history — and can use the data in ways that could harm or annoy users.
The creators of these applications say that they aren’t using this data to create individual profiles on users for targeted advertising purposes. But, they also leave room to change their policies in the future. One application creator said, “Leveraging that data would make a lot of sense.”
Facebook isn’t the only social networking site that gathers and distributes personal data through these applications:
In February, MySpace also opened up to developers. It has more than 1,000 applications. The company, along with other social networks such as Hi5 and AOL’s Bebo, allows applications under OpenSocial, a Google-led initiative that lets developers distribute games and other programs across multiple social networks.
You can read more about Google and Facebook’s fight over who owns the data of the social networking site’s users at Wired.