The Harbinger Online

Users should pay more attention before accepting apps that can sell personal information

During the popular Facebook application “FarmVille,” players build and grow their own farms, competing with friends to see whose can become the most successful.

But when signing up for FarmVille, like any Facebook application, users agree to give application writers access to their profile information, photos, friends’ information and other content necessary for the application to work.

According to “The End of Privacy,” a recent series on National Public Radio (NPR), this information can end up in the hands of third-party groups, who can use the information for marketing data and demographics.

Although most of this information ends up being shot back in the form of spam email, the danger resides in the fact that personal information is being put on the open market. Facebook, the application writers or the third-party groups are not to blame for this exposure of privacy.

Rather, Facebook users are at fault.  If users are not interested in profile information being exchanged outside of Facebook, they should use greater discretion when giving applications access to their profiles.

A conscious decision needs to be made by the user as to whether their personal information is more or less important than a Facebook quiz.  Items like age, religious preference and sexual orientation may not be the most sacred of facts when displayed on a Facebook profile, but they can be used as gauges to sort through masses of profile information that third-party groups collect.

Facebook is free to everyone.  It makes its money from companies buying advertising on the site.  Since this is the case, users have no say in how Facebook operates, and they should not. Facebook never discloses profile information outside the personalized social network, and according to NPR, efforts are being made by the Web site to stop third-party involvement.  These measures will take around a year to finish, so information is still being jeopardized for at least that amount of time.

One thing Facebook could do to improve the situation is to give a more specific disclaimer before a user adds an application.  The current warning before adding an application reads: “Allowing ‘This application’ access will let it pull your profile information, photos, your friends’ info and other content that it requires to work.”  A more specific statement garnered to each application warning of the risks of profile sharing would be helpful to users looking to use an application.

This could clear up the somewhat ambiguous statement that is in place now.  It would ensure that users knew exactly what could happen with their profile information.

In today’s world, privacy is a thing to behold.  A minute rarely passes where people aren’t under bombardment by emails, texts, calls or wall posts.  To make sure that personal information isn’t ending up in undesirable places, a user  should think twice before adding applications.

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