Facebook: Popular apps are leaking, selling user information

Occasionally, people in my Facebook feed will post and repost a status update about not how not to have information you’d not like public leaked on Facebook.

“Get a piece of paper and write down all the things you don’t want people to see on Facebook…” it begins, “and then don’t post them on Facebook.” While that’s marginally cute and clever, seeing it inevitably repeated in my feed is irritating because one of the biggest issues surrounding Facebook and personal privacy is that a lot of the information that stands to be leaked- demographic information, for instance- will not be revealed through status updates but rather the indiscriminate use of Facebook apps.

“Which apps?” might be the question you’d ask, and according to the WSJ, it appears that might be “all of them.” A spokesman for Facebook Sunday said that the company is working to find and “drastically limit” the availability of user information that is transmitted via the use of Facebook ID:

“A Facebook user ID may be inadvertently shared by a user’s Internet browser or by an application,” the spokesman said. Knowledge of an ID “does not permit access to anyone’s private information on Facebook,” he said, adding that the company would introduce new technology to contain the problem identified by the Journal.

“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,” the Facebook official said.

The Wall Street Journal elaborates as to how this can affect individual users regardless of the privacy settings enabled on their accounts:

The information being transmitted is one of Facebook’s basic building blocks: the unique “Facebook ID” number assigned to every user on the site. Since a Facebook user ID is a public part of any Facebook profile, anyone can use an ID number to look up a person’s name, using a standard Web browser, even if that person has set all of his or her Facebook information to be private. For other users, the Facebook ID reveals information they have set to share with “everyone,” including age, residence, occupation and photos.

Facebook says they have disabled thousands of apps since the issue came to light, but it wasn’t clear “how many, if any” of the cases were related to leaking user info to marketing companies.