Facebook apps & privacy (you don't have any, by default)

Facebook is amazing. Over 900 million people are connected via this social utility, and Facebook will soon be the first billion-person social network. But privacy is an issue …

Yes, for apps too
When we think of Facebook and privacy, we think about status updates. We think about friends, and “public by default” privacy policy updates. We don’t usually think about apps.

But apps are possibly the biggest threats to our privacy. And I’m not talking about updates from FarmVille outing your bad Farmer John habit.

Share my data with apps my friends use?
Facebook apps are notorious data hogs. Some want just your email and name. Some want access to your friends. Many want to be able to post to your timeline.

But did you know some apps that your friends have installed have access to YOUR data? I didn’t think so. Fortunately, Reginald Braithwaite blogged about this a couple of weeks ago.

My friend is my data
As he shows, BranchOut (the Facebook-enabled LinkedIn competitor) gets your data when you authorize it. But it wants access to all your friends’ data too. Nothing too personal of course: just their employment histories, schools attended, and places they’ve lived.

By default, it’ll all be made available.

It’s legal, but is it ethical?
You can bet that whatever privacy policy Facebook has in place now, and whatever decisions you’ve made and clicks you’ve committed add up to full legal authorization for Facebook and the apps to do whatever they want.

But is it ethical?

Most people don’t assume that apps their friends are installing will have access to their data too. Most won’t dig through the labyrinth of Facebook privacy settings to deny the possibility. And some that would prefer to disallow this might be almost forced into agreement due to the need to access and use apps themselves.

A perfectly valid question is, therefore: is this ethical? My answer is no.

Ask me, please
If Facebook would ask people first, before sharing their info, that would be ethical. And helpful, not to mention aboveboard.

How hard would that be?