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Facebook apps leak user information, according to a new report

posted 18 Oct 2010, 14:44 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 18 Oct 2010, 14:46 ]

Facebook users unknowingly are providing private information to marketers, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Facebook users are inadvertently providing access to their names and in some cases even their friend's names to advertising and Internet tracking companies, through some popular applications, the Wall Street Journal said.

According to the Journal's investigation, the issue affects tens of millions of Facebook app users, including people who set their profiles to Facebook's strictest privacy settings, the paper said.

The practice violates Facebook's rules and raises questions about its ability to keep identifiable information about its users' activities secure, the paper said.

On Sunday (October 17), a Facebook spokesman told the Journal that it is taking steps to "dramatically limit" the exposure of users' personal information.

"A Facebook user ID may be inadvertently shared by a user's Internet browser or by an application," the spokesman told the paper.

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.

Meantime, Associate Professor Anindya Ghose at New York University's (NYU) Stern School of Business said people who use Facebook and similar sites where personal information is shared should be aware that their information is never private.

"The average person should be aware of what is going on, just in general, because whatever you post online, if there is a digital trail, that's going to be recorded for keeps, that's going to stay there forever. I think the average person should know that whatever information they release on Facebook, that's going to be available to somebody or another at any point in time," said Ghose.

Ghose added the cost of a lack of privacy could eventually outweigh the benefits.

"The way I see this is, they get a lot of information about yourself. There are some benefits to it, for example, you get a very targeted product or service. I think where you want to be a little worried is what they can do with the pricing of that product. You don't want to be charged a higher price for being given a targeted product because they have a lot of information about your income levels or your price elasticity, for example," said Ghose.

On the NYU campus, students said they are concerned about internet privacy, and some have taken steps to protect their online information.

"I apply all the privacy settings that I can, but I am pretty careful about what I post because I feel the security can't be that high. So, I don't post anything that I wouldn't want to be seen by other people," said NYU student Eileen Roache.

Fellow student, Susan Silbert, said internet privacy is not really an issue for her.

"I'm not savy, so I'm not concerned for myself as much because I don't really put the information out there, but for the younger generation, it's really infiltrated their culture, and I think that the boundaries are a lot grayer," said Silbert.

"I know that sometimes our information is given away for specific purposes, so I know that it is probably in our best interest to keep certain things offline," added student Enrico Payone.

Facebook could not immediately be reached for comment by Reuters.