Facebook gaming and privacy: What a long, strange trip it's been

FacebookHopefully all of you are already aware of the unfortunate information the Wall Street Journal discovered on just what Facebook apps are doing with your "general" information. But if you're still under a rock -- which these days equates to not waking up with a smartphone next you -- it was revealed by the WSJ that top ranking Facebook apps and games like Zynga's FarmVille, Zynga Poker and FrontierVille have been providing web advertising companies and data banks your personal contact information to use for targeted ads.

Facebook posted a prompt (and slightly defensive) response, but the social network's track record won't exactly help them out on this one. Let's take a good, long look at how Facebook's changes over the years have slowly eroded your privacy before and while playing games on the social network.
Facebook Applications
Since Facebook's launch, the company has slowly but surely opened up the network to the globe, but it's come at a serious price: your privacy. So, let's take a look at Facebook's privacy policies starting from the beginning:

  • 2005--"No personal information that you submit to Thefacebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings." In other words, when the Facebook originally launched as "Thefacebook," (surely, you've all seen The Social Network) creator and now Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged to not publish any private information to those who weren't immediate members of your group, changeable in the Privacy Settings. This is also the same time as when Facebook expanded to high school networks and international schools. Boy, this would have been nice for gaming, wouldn't it?

  • 2006--"Our default privacy settings limit the information displayed in your profile to your school, your specified local area, and other reasonable community limitations that we tell you about." This is about when Facebook added the "Share" button to a bunch of websites, opened the site up for any old fellow and decided that they knew better than we did about our personal information. Think about, this is before social gaming even blew up.

  • 2007--"Your name, school name, and profile picture thumbnail will be available in search results across the Facebook network unless you alter your privacy settings." Put simply, this was about when Facebook users could discover one another outside of their own networks and intentionally make friends. Funny thing, this is the same time that the Facebook developer platform launched, which is what Facebook games are created on. Consider this, would social games be able to grow as quickly as they did without players being able to discover one another so freely? A double-edged sword, if you ask me.

  • 2008--Facebook releases more privacy controls, by allowing users to limit what they publish to their friends' feeds. However, this is also the same time that Facebook Connect opens up, allowing users to log in to other web sites using their Facebook login information. Sure it's super easy (I'm horribly guilty of it, too), but this is where things started to get visibly open and considerably more dangerous. Unfortunately, Facebook gaming on mobile devices isn't really possible without this technology. Welcome to the fun grey area of privacy vs. socially enhanced entertainment.

  • 2009--"The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to "everyone." You can review and change the default settings in your privacy settings." It was this fateful year that our profiles became publicly available to anyone who wished to find us via Google and the like unless we changed that in the Privacy Settings. This is also the same year where the infamous "Like" button slowly replaced the "Share" button. Honestly, this only cracked open the floodgates further for social gaming, allowing players to "Like" their favorite game, which would spread that buzz like wildfire. On the other hand, choosing to "Like" something is making a public statement about who are, which could easily be tracked by ad data firms in conjunction with the information that you were providing FarmVille with.

  • 2010--The Open Graph Policy arrives to both fanfare and fervor, allowing what we "Like" to be broadcast and used openly by the web sites that provide the option. But more importantly is Facebook's most recent policy change," When you connect with an application or web site, it will have access to General Information about you. The term General Information includes your and your friends' names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections, and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting. ... The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to "everyone." This means that in reality, the creators of these apps and games have been using your general information (I don't necessarily consider profile pictures and my friends' names "general" information) for who knows how long. Recently, Facebook added further control to what information specific applications could access with the added option of removing yourself from email lists. However, since players who provide this information--some of which players might consider sensitive--are open to more benefits, these increased controls might not be so appealing. Unfortunately, it seems as if there is no going back now.

Facebook Information Request
All things considered, many of social gaming's achievements and rapid growth would not have been possible without the network taking such liberties with our personal information. Of course, that doesn't excuse Facebook's actions, but everyone should understand what it means when they 'Allow' applications to access their personal information.

Using the Internet, even for gaming, for any period of time will reveal information about yourself to the world no matter how you slice it. While it doesn't make things like Facebook passing our personal information to data mining companies OK, these are issues that online gamers need to pay attention to if we want to enjoy social entertainment in the future. So, if it makes you feel any better, do what you can: Set everything to "Private" and game on.

[Sources: EFF and Facebook]
[Title Image Source: Technorati]

What do you think about this recent, somewhat scary news? Will you be leaving Facebook gaming as a result or simply change your settings to "Private" and game on? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.
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