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Top-Ranked Facebook Games In Privacy Breach Controversy
Top-Ranked Facebook Games In Privacy Breach Controversy
October 18, 2010 | By Simon Parkin

October 18, 2010 | By Simon Parkin
More: Console/PC

Several of the top-ranked games on social media platform Facebook were shut down over the weekend for breaching the site's privacy terms, an issue it's since said it quickly resolved.

Players of games by San Francisco-based LOLapps were unable to access their applications on Friday night, leading to speculatation on the developer's Facebook page that the games were encountering technical difficulties.

However, last night a Facebook spokesman confirmed that the games were removed for breaching the site's terms, saying: "We have disabled applications from LOLapps due to violations of our terms."

LOLapps' applications include Gift Creator, with 3.5 million monthly active users, Quiz Creator, with 1.4 million monthly active users, Colorful Butterflies and Best Friends Gifts.

A investigative report from the Wall Street Journal published today found that many of the top-ranked games on the site, including Zynga's Farmville, have been found to transmit user information to marketing companies in violation of Facebook's terms.

The apps reviewed by the Journal were found to be sending Facebook ID numbers to at least 25 advertising and data firms, several of which build profiles of Internet users by tracking their online activities.

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

[UPDATE: LOLapps said on its official blog this morning that it quickly worked to resolve the issue so that users could access its games again. "It has been a big weekend in the news for privacy and Facebook applications," wrote the company. "As tonight’s Facebook developer blog post states, 'In most cases, developers did not intend to pass this information, but did so because of the technical details of how browsers work.' This statement applies to LOLapps."

"When we were informed of the issue, the relationship that put us into this category was immediately dissolved," the company continues. "Since LOLapps was founded in 2008, we have always been committed to Facebook’s platform policies and will continue to be as we grow."]

Facebook has attracted severe criticism recently for its allegedly loose handling of user information, something it hopes this weekend's tough policing will help dispel. "We have taken immediate action to disable all applications that violate our terms," the Facebook spokesman said.

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Steve Randolph
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The major question is if Zynga violated the policy as stated in this article, why were they not shut down like LOLApps? It would seem that Zynga and Facebook are in bed the detriment of the public.

Todd Boyd
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I AM SO SURPRISED. [/sarcasm]

Patrick Coan
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Seems like the nature of the social games beast. Kind of like an STD. But it's worth the clicks, right? What a beautiful model, create cheap games which are addictive, collect personal data from the users, sell it to marketing companies so that they can better exploit consumers. Is this the state of financially successful games in 2010?

'In most cases, developers did not intend to pass this information, but did'--- In most cases? So there are cases where this was intended- and in other cases, the information was still sent to 3rd parties. Hmmmm? Perhaps money is behind this?

Christer Kaitila
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This should come as absolutely no surprise to anybody. The fact that Facebook, LOLapps, Zynga and their brethren claim to "not know" about their repeated privacy violations blows me away. It is particularly sad that when Zynga does the same thing as LOLapps they do not get shut down.

Bart Stewart
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We've known for a while that FaceBook apps can and do access personal data, because users must agree to expose that information in order to use those apps.

What's new is the confirmation that this personally identifiable information is being packaged and sold (that's not surprising, but it is new information), and the fact that games are doing it as well as other non-game applications. This raises several questions I can think of:

* Is reselling personal information to make extra profits somehow worse for games than other apps in terms of breaching our expectations? Was it ever reasonable to think that gamers were aware of this practice and OK with it?

* A lot of social game developers have talked at length about the importance of building detailed metrics into their games -- to what extent is that data sold to third parties? How much of it is personally identifiable?

* What would the reaction to Cow Clicker have been if Ian Bogost revealed that reselling personal information was part of the profit model? (I'm not suggesting he ever contemplated such a thing.)

John Mawhorter
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Given Facebook's attitude towards the privacy of its own users it isn't surprising that they don't care about breaches of privacy from app developers...

Jeffrey Fleming
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Does anyone really believe that social gaming companies are somehow making dump truck loads of money off of microtransactions? Are millions of players actually paying hard cash for the supposedly brilliant, innovative, accessible, wave-of-the-future social games that are offered up? Hmm. Maybe.

Or could it be that the social games business model is really a dressed up chain letter designed to harvest marketing data. Interesting that none of the companies involved seem to have anything more to say than; “Oops! Sorry. Won’t happen again.” Is that believable? Interesting too, that Facebook didn’t know about this data-gathering scheme until the Wall Street Journal told them. They didn’t know? Really?

If data mining is a fact of life, how about a little parity? Here’s an idea: As a player, I’ll agree to hand over some personal data to a social game company, and in return, they’ll pay me ten cents every time they resell it.

Or… maybe instead I’ll just never go near one of their profile trackers (sorry… games) in the first place. Let’s see how well that business model works.

Ran Gat
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Any laws or upcoming legislations (in the U.S or Europe) for those kind of violations?

I would say consumer boycotts but really........