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Facebook Flunks Privacy 101

Chris Conley,
Policy Attorney,
ACLU of Northern California Technology and Civil Liberties Project
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August 20, 2009

We recently blogged that Facebook’s default privacy settings allow quizzes and other applications to peer into your profile – even if it’s your friend, and not you, who takes the quiz!

But don’t take our word for it. If you’re a Facebook user, check out our very own quiz. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at all the personal details a Facebook app can collect about you and your friends — and some steps you can take to keep your private information from landing in the wrong hands.

(And, yes, we know it’s a little weird to warn you about Facebook quizzes by asking you to take a Facebook quiz — but at least you know who we are and that we are committed to living up to our privacy policy, unlike many quiz authors who haven’t posted a privacy policy at all!)

Facebook Quizzes Get a Failing Grade for Privacy

Even if your Facebook profile is “private,” when you take a quiz, an unknown quiz developer could be accessing almost everything in your profile: your religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, pictures, and groups. Facebook quizzes also have access to most of the info on your friends’ profiles. This means that if your friend takes a quiz, they could be giving away your personal information too. (But, again, don’t just take our word for it: take our quiz and see for yourself!)

And Facebook’s restrictions on the collection and use of personal information by applications are simply inadequate. Although Facebook’s Terms of Service require that applications only collect and use information related to the app itself, enforcing this rule may be really difficult. That means that random developers who ignore the rule could potentially sweep up vast amount of personal information about you and your friends — and once they’ve collected it, they could easily sell it, share it, or even turn it over to the government. This is a major privacy hole, and Facebook needs to take stronger steps to address this problem than just writing a sentence in a rarely-read document.

Now It’s Your Turn: Quiz Facebook About Privacy

What’s going on with these quizzes just isn’t right. It’s time for Facebook to upgrade its privacy controls so that you decide who gets to see your personal information.

That’s where you come in. As we’ve seen before, Facebook does respond when users protest. So we need to make some noise!

Don’t let Facebook’s default settings force you to silently pay with your privacy when you — or your friends — use Facebook. Demand that Facebook upgrade its privacy controls to give you control of your personal info. Demand Your dotRights!

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