How Harmful Is Facebook's Privacy Breach?

Assessing the severity of the breach and what users can do about it

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Facebook is leaking users' personal information to advertising firms and Internet tracking companies, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation. The information being shared is a user's unique "Facebook ID" number, which can be used to find a person's name (and friends' names) regardless of how they set their privacy settings. According to the article, popular third party apps including FarmVille and Texas HoldEm Poker are responsible for the breach, which may affect tens of millions of people. How harmful is this for Facebook users? Here's what tech observers are saying:

  • Facebook Needs to Better Monitor Third-Party Apps, writes Sam Diaz at ZDNet: "Facebook needs to make sure that that platform is a safe place for the users. That means policing the platform to make sure user data isn't compromised in any way that's going to betray the company's trust with the users. Facebook users who are adamant about privacy can only be forgiving so many times... It's an unfortunate setback for Facebook." Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing agrees: "Again, this means you may have been compromised even if you yourself didn't use the apps, but your friends did." On Twitter, Henry Blodget of Bussiness Insider adds "At very least, it is direct violation of Facebook's app rules (which admittedly most folks prob couldn't care less about)."

  • Facebook Isn't Owning Up to the Problem, writes Kelly Fiveash at The Regsiter: "Facebook has tried to distance itself from any implication that personal information could have been used by any one of the 25 companies to which the apps transmitted the data. The company put out a separate statement to its third-party developers that was part finger-wagging, and partly an assertion that the press had exaggerated the implications of sharing a UID. In effect, the company is trying to downplay the whole sorry affair. The only trouble is that by admitting it needs to fix its technology to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future, Facebook just got poked. And not in a good way."

  • I Disagree: Facebook Is Acting Swiftly writes Jay Hathaway at Download Squad: "Facebook has suspended several popular apps, including Familybuilder's Family Tree app and nearly all apps by LOLapps Media (of Gift Creator and Quiz Creator fame). All 12 companies involved in this leak say that they didn't keep or use the Facebook ID numbers. Rapleaf's defense is that no names were shared, and that the ID numbers were included accidentally. It looks like Facebook is taking your privacy -- or the company's valuable data, if you're cynical -- pretty seriously this time."

  • This Isn't a Big Deal, tweets Rex Hammock, CEO of a media marketing firm: "Magazines, credit card cos., grocery store 'loyalty cards' - They sell more about you than what you've revealed to Farmville." Jeff Jarvis, a new media guru, nods in agreement. "WSJ treats it as scandal. There lies the conspiracy, methinks."

  • Here's How to Protect Yourself, writes Max Read at Gawker: "There's only one way to ensure protection against apps sharing your information: Turn them off entirely. Think about it: What apps do you use? How frequently do you use them? Do you really need them? Farmville? Seriously? Most Facebook apps are a waste of your time and don't enhance your use of the site at all. So turn them off." He goes on to list detailed instructions about disabling your apps.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.