Facebook apps send user information to ad agencies

Some five months ago, news broke that social networks were sending users’ ID numbers and/or names to advertising agencies every time the users click on the ads, by way of “referrers”.

At the time, Facebook and MySpace reacted with a prompt change of the code that allowed this, and various social networks found guilty of this practice excuse themselves with various combinations of “we weren’t aware of the situation”, “we don’t consider that data personally identifiable” and “we’re working on a obfuscating/scrambling method to rectify this” statements.

Continuing their investigation into the practices of social networks, the Wall Street Journal has revealed today that various third-party application on Facebook have been found guilty of the same behavior, and that among those are all of the 10 most popular: FarmVille, Phrases, Texas HoldEm, FrontierVille, Causes, Cafe World, Mafia Wars, QUiz Planet, Treasure Isle and IHeart.

Once again, the question of whether Facebook can keep its promise of keeping its users’ personally identifiable information away from ad agencies has arisen, and there is no easy answer. Maybe the question should be – do they really want to?

Facebook has again issued a statement that it will look into the matter and correct the code, and has in the meantime disabled thousands of applications. It is unclear whether the developers of these third-party applications even knew that this information was being transmitted to the ad agencies, since this action constitutes a breach of the companies’ own privacy policies.

But the thing that must worry users the most is that a data-collecting firm by the name of RapLeaf has tied the Facebook ID information obtained through various applications to a database of Internet users, and has put it on sale. The company also allegedly forwards Facebook user IDs to a number of advertising and data firms – including Google’s Invite Media.