New app screens Facebook apps for privacy threats

When someone plays Zynga’s Words with Friends on Facebook they obviously expect to share that experience with whichever Facebook contact they play against. However, by authorizing Words with Friends–or other Facebook apps–users might be sharing much more than they’re aware of.

Facebook is a social network. Bydefinition, the point of being onFacebook at all is to share with others. However, people like to choosewhich information to share, and who to share it with–they’re funnythat way. Apps that collect or share information without the explicitconsent of the user are shady, and infringe on the privacy users expect.

Jim Brock, founder and CEO of PrivacyChoice, explains in a blog post,“Facebook doesn’t control or enforce app privacy practices, so it’s upto users to know the privacy risk of sharing personal data with apps.”

To help users help themselves PrivacyChoice has launchedPrivacyScore–a privacy report card that grades Facebook apps on howwell they respect the user’s privacy. PrivacyScore is a Facebook app aswell. You simply type in the name of the app you want to check, andPrivacyScore will return a grade between 1 and 100. The PrivacyScorerating considers a variety of factors, including the privacy policiesof the app vendor, and how the app handles personal data.

Don’t bother trying to get a grade on PrivacyScore itself. ThePrivacyChoice started out indexing and rating the most popular apps,and does not have comprehensive coverage of all Facebook apps. Its FAQclaims that it is continuing to expand its app coverage.

Facebook gets a C+ score
In addition to the PrivacyScore app, PrivacyChoice also unveiled aoverall grades comparing the top app publishers, and provided aFacebook Tracking Heatmap. Leading the pack of app publishers isPlaydom, with a rating of 93 out of 100. Electronic Arts got a 91, andZynga received an 82.PrivacyChoice says the average score across allFacebook apps is a C-plus–not great when you’re talking aboutprotecting personal privacy.

The heatmap uses real-time data and analytics from PrivacyChoice togenerate a visual representation of privacy risk across hundreds ofFacebook apps. Orange and red zones on the heatmap highlight companiesthat pose an increased privacy risk.
Facebook has repeatedly tweaked app behavior and developer requirementsto make them more secure, and it continues to respond aggressively whenapps are found to violate privacy guidelines. A tool like PrivacyScorecan give users some ability to police privacy for themselves as well,though. 

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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