Next time you sign up for a fun Facebook app you could unintentionally give it permission to access your telephone number and home address. Would you trust apps, let alone a social network, with this type of data?
Earlier in the week Facebook revealed that it was giving third-party application developers and external websites the ability to ask for your personal details. This would, it says, let you easily share your address and mobile number with a shopping site to streamline the checkout process, for example.
While it’ll still be down to you to give permission to the applications, the move would add yet more confusion for Facebook users, and could pose a serious risk to not only your online privacy but even your bank balance.
Following a backlash, Facebook today announced that it has decided to temporarily disable the ability to share this data. It’ll now work on making its users more aware of when they’re letting apps access their personal data. Still, the revised ability to share your personal data will return very soon.
Facebook apps have got your number
I’m pretty savvy when it comes to sharing information online and I know that by connecting with friends via Facebook, I’m making public information that could potentially be open to abuse.
But, my contract is with Facebook and I don’t expect to have to read umpteen sets of terms and conditions every time I fancy taking a quick pop quiz or one of my friends shares a fun application with me.
Just as Apple vets applications sold via its App Store, if Facebook wants to be taken seriously I expect it to take responsibility for the apps shared on its site.
A betrayal of trust?
Security experts have warned that without this scrutiny, renegade apps will abuse the system. Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, comments:
‘It still sounds like a recipe for disaster, given the prevalence of rogue scam applications already on Facebook – all of which benefit from apparently being blessed by the Facebook name and brand.’
I share his concerns. It’s already bad enough that ‘legitimate’ Facebook apps, such as Facebook Places, want to track my location – now rogue apps could use my mobile number to sign me up to premium rate services.
It’s good that Facebook’s now looking into making it more obvious when you’re being asked to share this data, but the social network needs to be careful. Once it loses the trust of its users, it’ll lose them altogether – including me.
In the meantime, I’d urge people to treat Facebook’s apps with the same cynicism I reserve for free, and paid-for software downloads. Read the T&Cs before you agree to them or you may find that they’re not as much fun as you’d thought. And maybe think about removing your home address and phone number from the site – do we really need them on there in the first place?