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    Wall Street Journal: Selling You on Facebook

    The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the personal data being gathered by apps on social-networking site Facebook and how this affects your privacy:

    Now there are “apps”—stylish, discrete chunks of software that live online or in your smartphone. To “buy” an app, all you have to do is click a button. Sometimes they cost a few dollars, but many apps are free, at least in monetary terms. You often pay in another way. Apps are gateways, and when you buy an app, there is a strong chance that you are supplying its developers with one of the most coveted commodities in today’s economy: personal data.

    Some of the most widely used apps on Facebook—the games, quizzes and sharing services that define the social-networking site and give it such appeal—are gathering volumes of personal information.

    A Wall Street Journal examination of 100 of the most popular Facebook apps found that some seek the email addresses, current location and sexual preference, among other details, not only of app users but also of their Facebook friends. One Yahoo service powered by Facebook requests access to a person’s religious and political leanings as a condition for using it. The popular Skype service for making online phone calls seeks the Facebook photos and birthdays of its users and their friends. […]

     This appetite for personal data reflects a fundamental truth about Facebook and, by extension, the Internet economy as a whole: Facebook provides a free service that users pay for, in effect, by providing details about their lives, friendships, interests and activities. Facebook, in turn, uses that trove of information to attract advertisers, app makers and other business opportunities.
    Up until a few years ago, such vast and easily accessible repositories of personal information were all but nonexistent. Their advent is driving a profound debate over the definition of privacy in an era when most people now carry information-transmitting devices with them all the time. […]

    The “app economy,” which includes Facebook as well as smartphone apps, is estimated to have generated $20 billion in revenue in 2011 by selling downloads, advertising, “virtual goods” and other products, according to estimates from Rubinson Partners, a market researcher.

    By virtue of its size and user base of 800-million-plus people, Facebook is at the heart of the personal data economy. Popular apps can quickly go “viral” there and gain millions of users—but can also flame out just as quickly. This explains why some apps seek to cash in by gathering as much data as possible and hoping to find ways to make money from it.

    Read the full article to find out specifics about apps that are gathering personal data and whether they might be violating Facebook’s policies.

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