The Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has put together a campaign to raise awareness of privacy issues surrounding Facebook applications, in particular quizzes. According to this group, the millions of Facebook users taking quizzes are revealing far more personal information to application developers than they are aware of. This is mostly due to the fact that Facebook’s default privacy settings allow access to all your profile information whether or not your profile is set to “private.” Even worse, the ACLU reports that even if you shun quizzes yourself, your profile info is revealed when one of your friends takes a quiz. Want to see how bad the problem is? Just take the ACLU’s Facebook Quiz and prepare to be shocked.
As any regular Facebook user knows, quizzes are some of the most popular applications in use on the social network. Every day, our News Feeds are filled with everything from the latest variation on the “5 Things” theme to the “What (insert popular movie title) character are you?” and more. But these seemingly innocuous time wasters could have dangerous privacy implications if they ended up being distributed by malicious app developers who want access to Facebook’s treasure trove of personal data.
The Danger of Quizzes
With each question in the ACLU’s Privacy Quiz, you’re not only told what information a quiz author can see – you’re shown it. For example, after answering the first question, you learn that almost everything on your profile, even if you use privacy settings to limit access, is available to the quiz. Then, a graphic is shown which reveals selected information retrieved from your profile including hometown, groups you belong to, events attended, favorite books, and more.
The second question is even more disturbing. It informs you that everything on your profile is made available to the developers when your friends take a quiz. To drive this point home, the ACLU’s Quiz loads up information pulled from your friends’ profiles and displays that data below the answer for your perusal. Here, information on your friends is shown including hometowns, favorite books, political views, networks, birthdays, number of wall posts, and even personal photos. Thanks to the quiz, all that info which you can see on your friends’ profiles is now available to the quiz author, too.
Finally, the last question prompts you to take action. When the quiz asks you what you should do, the correct answer is: “demand the right to control my information without sacrificing the right to use new technology.” To get the word out there, the ACLU suggests you update your privacy settings, share their quiz on Facebook, and sign their online petition.
Is This True?
The nature of the quiz makes it sound a bit like fear-mongering, especially with statements like this: “Once details about your personal life are collected by a quiz developer, who knows where they could end up or how they could be used. Shared? Sold? Turned over to the government?” However, outside of these overly dramatic tactics, the claims made by the ACLU are true. According to CNET, Facebook doesn’t even deny that quiz developers have access to this sort of information. The company does point out that users can limit how much information applications (including friends’ applications) can see by tweaking their privacy settings.
Note: To do this yourself, go to Settings -> Privacy Settings -> Applications. From there, you can uncheck the boxes next to the items which you don’t want apps to have access to.
Still, the ACLU suggests that access to personal information such as this be opt-in rather than opt-out, as it is now. Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt says the company “generally agrees” with the ACLU’s recommendations and notes that the social network recently disabled hundreds of applications that were inconsistent with Facebook Platform policies. He also mentions the company has been working with the Canadian Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, to improve user data controls on Platform.
This is just one of the concerns that will be addressed later today when Stoddart announces the agreement that has been reached between her country and the social network in terms of privacy protocols. Stoddart ruled last month that Facebook had 30 days to come up with a plan to comply with Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act or face court action.