Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal, in its continuing series of excellent articles about online privacy, released a controversial story about Facebook apps transmitting identification information to outside advertisers — in clear violation of Facebook policies. In response, a number of other media outfits have collectively shrugged their shoulders, maintaining that sending this information happens all the time and no one should be particularly concerned. Did the Journal overreact? Or are others missing the point?
The Journal reported that all of the top ten apps on Facebook (e.g., Farmville, Causes, Mafia Wars, etc.) were inadvertently sending along a user's Facebook ID to the advertising partners that delivered ads while users interacted with the apps. This happened despite Facebook's requirement that app developers never transmit personally identifiable information to advertisers, and despite the affirmative promises that many (if not all) of the apps developers had made in their privacy policies not to transmit such information.