Facebook games implicated in privacy breach

Many of the site's most popular applications have been sharing users' personal data with advertisers and others in contravention of social-networking site's rules.

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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.

With 59.4 million users, Farmville is the most popular of the affected applications.

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.

Discussion

77 comments
Minarvia
Minarvia

I am so happy that I don't have a facebook account right now.

majere613
majere613

Confirmation: There are at least 185 million gullible idiots on the Internet. And we wonder why people bother sending us spam claiming to be from Blizzard/ a long-lost pornstar ex-workmate/ director of Nigerian bank etc. As long as stupidity continues to be a renewable resource, this sort of thing will go on.

kavadias1981
kavadias1981

I can't believe people actually play this garbage. There are teams of hard working developers who don't sleep for months, even years, and work an unrealistic amount of hours, to bring us the fruits of their labour. And this spyware garbage gets the attention of millions while theirs only sells a couple of mil at the most!!!! It infuriates me!

jimy1475
jimy1475

facebook reminds me of myspace, its gona be forgoten some day

SadPSPAddict
SadPSPAddict

Glad I don't play any of those "games" then :D

Taix34
Taix34

i played a Facebook game,stopped 1 min later to anyone who plays those games: ITS NOT WORTH IT

s_h_a_d_o
s_h_a_d_o

:lol: FarceBook strikes again!

delta3074
delta3074

yikes, my wife plays 3 of those games all the time.

karloss01
karloss01

i agree with kozzy1234 everytime i do something on facebook (games, quizes and such) it always asked if such n' such company can access your info. i'm surprised it took this long for people to realise that they get their details taken by these games when it asks them in the first place.

chisoxrule
chisoxrule

Turtlebird95 is that true?! None of my FV playing friends will admit to that so they may be in denial to the consequences. :P

turtlebird95
turtlebird95

It's all good fun until you get a crapton of SPAM in your email and advertisements in your mailbox.

LYTEK
LYTEK

With all of this FaceBook privacy scandal hype, it won't be long before we see a sequel to "The Social Network" lol

daabulls23
daabulls23

I just tried a FB game for the first time the other day (the ESPNU game). It was OK, but I'd rather play a game where I don't have to wait 3 hours for something to happen. I'd much rather play Sim City.

kozzy1234
kozzy1234

And this is why I never have tried or played any of thos facebook games, they always seemed fishy to me.

Cloud737
Cloud737

"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." Oh really? I may not have done much web programming until now, but I'm pretty sure you can run a server-side script where you verify if the visitor is a friend of the user before transmitting the actual user page, otherwise you just return an error page. Heck, even Gamespot does this with their privacy setting turned to max (albeit they forgot to NOT display user's blog page when you have the correct URL, but oh well). And guess what? It would be a simple extra "if" condition (read: 5 more lines of code, excluding the HTML you have to generate, which is probably already done somewhere and good for copying). So yeah, I take this as confirmation that Facebook knew about this for a long time, and they ain't feel like changing it, ye hear?

daihideo
daihideo

Definitely ticked off, but good thing I quit playing all those games. I hope Zynga burns.

OmenIWF
OmenIWF

this does not suprise me at all, t's all about the green and to hell with protecting their user base.

xXFr34k_0uTXx
xXFr34k_0uTXx

Next thing you know you'll wake up without a kidney. Just saying kids.

koospetoors
koospetoors

Got to show this to my farmville addicted friends, which will hopefully stop the slew of weekly "OMG!!! your friend send you a cow!" messages, gosh they're annoying.

brightblueink
brightblueink

I'm not really a big fan of Facebook--the only reason I'm on there is because it's one of the few reliable ways to keep in touch with some of my friends--but I have to laugh a little at you guys saying "why waste time playing Facebook games when you can play the games WE like to play?" Let's be honest, we waste as much time with our games as they do with theirs, the main difference is that we're playing particularly well designed time-wasters. That's not saying that I necessarily disagree with you--most facebook games are poorly designed obvious grabs for your money, and it really IS a better idea to get a Harvest Moon game rather than wasting time on Farmville--but there's no reason to be holier-than-thou about it. We're not saving the world by playing Left 4 Dead.

kingJord
kingJord

I love how Zynga took no responsibility. Their statement clearly avoids mentioning that they are PROFITING by selling information to ad companies... It is not a complicated technical issue at all, it is just a profit issue. If you don't sell people's information, you make less money. They have been a shady company since they originated (as a crappy piece of spyware).

Anubistraveler
Anubistraveler

Was just at target and saw that they now sell gift cards for facebook. Why in the world would I spend money to do things on this site. I think that this is getting pretty sad. People should be spending money on food, games, rent, etc.

SipahSalar
SipahSalar

Actually most users of farmville and other socialnet games are women/girls followed by midde aged men. Its unfair that developers of games like Dragon Age and Fallout invest so much time and effort into these games yet these tiny game developers make alot more profit with WAY less investment.

Wylen0
Wylen0

See this is why instead of farmville you play i don't know HARVEST MOON facebook is rediculous

lee1823
lee1823

jesus - i didnt realise there were 185 million morons in the world! Facebook's very foundation is made up of spam and ad's - i can't believe the amount of people that play this crap and fall for the stupid 'click here to see the most shocking video ever!' links etc I recently updated my status to let people know i was going to visit Romania..... All of a sudden my facebook is littered with Romanian tourist ads. Facebook is as bad as these developers.... i suppose thats why its free.

UbberHappyGamer
UbberHappyGamer

And this why you don't play crappy games like FarmVille, kids. If this is the only game you can play, then you don't have a life.

fester420
fester420

I remember back in 05 this program called Zynga was messing up my computer and I had no idea where it came from, everytime i uninstalled it and restarted my computer it would still be there. I had to reformat to get it to go away.

JoeBigfoot
JoeBigfoot

I thought we didn't play Farmville because its the sweat on satan's hairy balls...

tehepicpwnzor
tehepicpwnzor

And this is why we don't play Farmville, children.

masterlu
masterlu

I'm just waiting for FB games to get out of the "lazy soccermom" routine and for some real games to start appearing. There is so much that could be done with the social aspects and the technology available beyond what is currently on the market. At the moment FB game development is basically copying what everyone else is doing and staring blindly at user statistics and behavior instead of exploring the possibilities.

Solace427
Solace427

And people still play these games why? Is it because they do no see articles like this? I do not even know what to say to this one. It is not shocking at all and I most certainly regret playing those games. -.- dark times dark times

PayneKiller
PayneKiller

@Anubistraveler you just reminded me of that boxing bin Laden ad that would come up on the side of the page. That was fun mainly due to the sound effects. Think they had a Saddam version too.

jeremiah06
jeremiah06

Why play a watered down farmvile?? One could easily play a much superior harvest moon game...

Darkaned
Darkaned

What?! Facebook is not a great place to put your personal information?! *dies of instant shock* Freaking failbook.

svaubel
svaubel

Oh i see. "We realize personal information was getting out, but since the media knows now we will stop."

eze_sl89
eze_sl89

desijatt: I have never played a facebook game. Too busy playing real games. i concur

desijatt
desijatt

I have never played a facebook game. Too busy playing real games.

Arcterran
Arcterran

I still think its funny that after I deleted my facebook...all these privacy breaches (although deserved...hey they put their information on there...its open season on whoever finds it...) and hacks start happening....I'm happy I deleted mine after wiping it (although its probably on some server in some far off place...) Technically Zynga is not breaching its privacy statement...but you still lose your privacy (which is to be quite honest the easiest thing to lose in this day in age...one slip up and goodbye!) Although On the other hand... If you use fake information you are breaching the EULA and whatever Privacy contracts the company uses (in which you agree beforehand if you are to use said product...it doesn't take a legal genius to read through it...just typically 5 minutes..there is usually a clause covering this)....meaning you can be theoretically be held liable...just a warning to everyone...

bayernfan
bayernfan

The same corporate hypocrisy "we look forward to working..." "We are addressing the issue" They say so now that their business has come to light, otherwise user would still be in the dark. Why did they not work from the first day? Because selling personal data without informing the victim is huge business and they will continue doing it. Why does Facebook, a great idea to connect people, disrespect them by employing foul tactics with third parties to gain more money? Corporate hypocrisy

DeX2010
DeX2010

Big Brother Universe here I come!

Anubistraveler
Anubistraveler

Not really surprised by this. Facebook games remind me of the pop up advertisements that are games. Therefore, do not play them and those that do run the risk of sharing unwanted information with others. I think Facebook is the one responsible here and should give people more privacy options then they already do.

SicklySunStorm
SicklySunStorm

As much as I don't get the games at all like many, I have to admit that my wife dearly loves them and gets a great deal of fun out of them. I wouldn't call it fun personally, but she enjoys it. She gets about the same amount of fun I'd get from a facebook game by sitting down with a copy of God of War or something similarly bloody and crass.... it's all down to personal taste. I used to have a bit of a high and mighty attitude to it all, not considering FB games "proper games", but i'm wrong. The number of people playing them proves it. The point of any game is to hold someone's attention, and damn FB games are good at doing that to many, you have to admit, whether you like them or not. Oh - and one more thing. Tetris on FB IS awesome. I no longer have a FB account because I was sick of it draining my time, and having friends I no longer really knew constantly contacting me.... there's a reason I don't see all those douche's from school and old work places anymore - I don't like them(!) ha ha... So I occasionally nick the laptop when my wife is signed in to her account and have a blast on Tetris, and it hooks me. Hours tick by whilst I'm still dropping the bricks. It's the first and only FB game that has me, so I can understand the pull of some others a little more maybe.

blackwingzero
blackwingzero

I never trusted facebook to begin with and this just goes to reinforce that.

PayneKiller
PayneKiller

@Rocker6 Yup, pretty much every facebook game "offers you" to pay for a temporary advantage. It's a damn dirty trick!

dipsetboy17
dipsetboy17

i never played those facebook games lol.

Atheno
Atheno

I had a friend who played Farmville almost religiously. She told me to try it, and I was like "well ok." so I went into a facebook account of mine that hadn't been used for years, started up farmville and in 2 seconds went. "Wait..didn't they make an infinitely better game called harvest moon for at least 3 different systems?" I then stopped playing, smelling the old cheese and burnt toast of Farmville.

SauhlGood
SauhlGood

im shocked! rich companies engaging in questionable business practices ...omg! what would be a shocker if anybody was actually held responsible for this who the hell needs to keep in contact with people they havent talked to in years, and chances are they wont in the future.... from all the friend collectors to narcissist with a blog...thinkin people give a crap that they ate cheerios not capn crunch this morning... but even if facebook fails, some other company will fill their greedy shoes.