Rory Cellan-Jones

Facebook and privacy

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 1 May 08, 17:28 GMT

How worried are you about the amount of private and personal stuff you have posted on social networking sites? I've always been pretty relaxed - both because I'm very careful about how much information I give away, and because I think I know my way around privacy settings.

But an investigation by my colleagues at Click has made me think again. They set out to explore just how much data is accessible to developers who make applications for Facebook. What they found was that it was relatively simple to write an application which would give the developer access to lots of personal data - not just from those who've installed that application, but also from their list of Facebook friends.

The problem is a by-product of Facebook's decision a year ago to throw open its doors to outside developers. It was a move hailed as a master-stroke at the time, making Facebook a platform for all kinds of innovative new ideas which would benefit developers and the users, and give the social network an edge in its battle with MySpace.

A year on it's not looking so smart. For one thing, a ceaseless flow of new applications of varying quality has cluttered up Facebook. For another, the access to user data given to developers has only served to heighten controversy about privacy, the issue that has become an ever bigger worry for all users of social networks.

By contrast, MySpace was rather slower off the mark in opening up its platform But it exercises far greater control than Facebook over the applications that developers are now producing. For one thing, they all run off MySpace servers, for another the code of every application is inspected before it is allowed onto the site.

Now Facebook points out that users can adjust their privacy settings to limit the access to their data that is given to any application. But how many of us knew that - or do anything about it? I know I haven't.

For Web 2.0 businesses two principles seem to have become gospel over the last year - openness and collaboration with external software developers, and respect for the privacy of your users' data. The trouble is, as Facebook has discovered, they can be mutually incompatible.


  • Comment number 1.

    I never use any social networking site for anything but i have account on all those so called "social networking" websites lol, but i think now i have to delete all of them.

  • Comment number 2.

    I do share the issues on privacy raised here. People perhaps do not realize but even before the social networking explosion they were already leaing their footprints behind them all over the Internet. Our every move can be traced there!

    By entering Facebook you are already opening yourself access to yourself on a grand scale but it only gets worse when the application develeopers have been granted a virtual "hunting licence" on the masses involved in these sites.

    The "tick the box" or "adjust your privacy settings" excuse is a lousy one and nothing but a severe betrayal of user trust.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm worried now !

    I've been pretty careful about the applications I've installed and only given them the minimum permissions they need, so I felt pretty safe.

    BBC Click's results are worrying. I have a number of friends who install the worst of applications, even the ones clearly designed to be more viral than useful or entertaining. How much access do their applications have to my data ?

    I fear I may have to put 80 or more friends onto a limited profile list..

  • Comment number 4.

    To be honest, you're risking your privacy of data as soon as you put anything anywhere or the internet. If it isn't page privacy that's a problem, it's applications. There will always be a way that people can steal the information you put online.

    Nothing on the internet - or anywhere else for that matter - can be relied on to be secure. Users should only put up information that they don't treasure and shouldn't make it easy for criminals by placing their address, phone number, full name and interests in the same place.

    I'm not saying that Facebook isn't responsible. It gives people a false sense of security, which is unfair. But it always boils down to the fault of those people who decide, willingly, to broadcast all their personal information to the world in one, little file.

  • Comment number 5.

    Last day i try to delete my account from facebook and it came out that i cannot delete my account completely, and its really stupid, it just deactivate ur account which will be open the next time u login, that sucks! i think everybody should stop using this facebook until they dont allow u to delete ur account.

    I think we should start a struggle with slogan that "Stop using facebook" until they dont do anything about privacy.

  • Comment number 6.

    aboylearning, you've sadly missed the boat with that bit of news. Facebook's deactivation process was hotly discussed late last year in various newspapers.

    I'm not sure campaigning against Facebook is the right course of action but agree that there's something wrong. Though it's widely speculated in the media, not enough people are aware when the sign up for such services they're giving out a lot of personal information and risking it all. Stopping people isn't the right course of action. Instead users should be made more aware and allowed to make their own decisions.

  • Comment number 7.

    GoodOlGrego, i have not missed it but i again point out this to show how evil these websites are, and it was read on this website as well.

    Of course we cannot stop anyone, i have not access to computer of all the people in this world, but we can tell people they are going to be in mess when they signup for these services and everyone should write something in their blogs and should conclude that its not safe to sign up for their services :D, plus there is another point "Do we really need these websites", they are just waste of time and people are getting money from out time spending, hmm, i think that will also be a good point to make over the net, why people are wasting their time to make someone else rich.

    Now seriously speaking when i said we should "stop using facebook" was mean that we should tell people in our surrounding that this is not safe, so be aware of them. then of course this will be their own choice to continue to use them or not.


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