Social gaming on Facebook is big business; just ask EA, which last year laid off 17 percent of its workforce in traditional game development as it was splashing up to $400 million on social game specialist Playfish. It's also big business for advertisers, who compete for the attention of those people spending millions of hours engaging with Facebook's various social applications. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the manner in which many of these applications shared information with advertisers revealed personal information on users, even when the people in question had the most restrictive level of privacy settings.
According to the Journal, all of Facebook's top 10 applications are guilty of this practice. Of the top 10, six are games developed by Zynga, a social-gaming firm that has courted controversy before with both its marketing tactics and intellectual property issues. Between them, Zynga's Farmville, Texas HoldEm, Frontierville, Cafe World, Mafia Wars, and Treasure Isle have 185.4 million users.
The problem lies with applications transmitting a user's Facebook ID number--a unique code assigned to each user's profile. Anyone with this number can view the basic information on a user's Facebook profile, even with Facebook's highest level of privacy settings applied on the profile in question. According to the Journal, the implicated applications sent this information to "at least 25 advertising and data firms," including several who tied the information gathered through this process to data on Web users gathered through other means.
The "most expansive" use of Facebook data was by a firm called RapLeaf, which makes its money by compiling data on Web users and selling those profiles. While RapLeaf claims to remove names from its profiles before selling them, the Journal confirmed it was transmitting Facebook profile IDs to third parties as part of its service.
Talking to the Journal, Zynga said, "Zynga has a strict policy of not passing personally identifiable information to any third parties. We look forward to working with Facebook to refine how web technologies work to keep people in control of their information." Facebook said it was attempting to address the issue, but suggested the process was going to be complex. "This is an even more complicated technical challenge than a similar issue we successfully addressed last spring on Facebook.com, but one that we are committed to addressing," a company spokesperson told the Journal.
For more on Facebook games, check out GameSpot's recent look at the social side to the future of gaming.