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Facebook acknowledges privacy issue with third-party applications

October 18, 2010 | 12:58 pm

Facebook is looking into how third-party applications treat its users' information after the revelation that some applications and games were sending that data to advertisers.

A Wall Street Journal investigation found that the 10 most popular apps were sending user identification numbers to advertising companies. Specifically, the newspaper accused such games as FarmVille and Texas Hold 'Em Poker of sharing with advertisers a string of numbers and letters used to identify users, making it possible for advertisers to glean quite a bit about the users in combination with the other information they collect on them.

That activity, which violates Facebook's guidelines, raises the question whether the world's most popular social networking service has adequate systems to oversee the activity of third-party applications.

Facebook, which removed some applications while the issues were being resolved, pledged to introduce new systems that would dramatically limit the sharing of these user IDs. But Facebook said no user's personal information was misused. In a blog post, it blamed the "technical details of how browsers work."

"Press reports have exaggerated the implications of sharing a UID," the post from Mike Vernal said. "Knowledge of a UID does not enable anyone to access private user information without explicit user consent. Nevertheless, we are committed to ensuring that even the inadvertent passing of UIDs is prevented and all applications are in compliance with our policy."

The flap raised the hackles of privacy watchdogs who warned people to consider the risks of installing these applications and called for Facebook and third-party applications to devote more resources to protecting Facebook users.

Even some technology bloggers are challenging Facebook. Others say this is much ado about not much.

-- Jessica Guynn

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