I quit Facebook once already but the few friends that still speak to me threatened to cut me off completely if I didn’t come back. So once again I am feigning interest in the minutia of their lives. Perhaps it really is important to know which trendy restaurant you favor, or that you are bored in the office (who isn’t?) or that you are now a fan of Macpherson’s Tavern. (I have no idea where it is either.) But I draw the line at being notified that you have a baby Red-bellied Wallaby in your zoo.
Some of my most respected friends have succumbed to playing Facebook games. It seems like a harmless way to waste time. It’s probably an ego boost each time they achieve a higher skill level and the game informs everyone on their friend list how smart they are. Lately the game of choice is something called Zoo. For those of you who, like me, are so fossilized that you don’t know what it is, I did a little research. First I clicked the link to adopt the Wallaby. (The poor thing was cold and lonely.) The page that opened provided this information:
Zoo is a fun game where you can build up your own zoo, collect and breed animals, hunt for treasure, and trade with your friends. Be the best zookeeper in the world and make your zoo #1!
Ok, so it’s another one of those virtual world things like the one where people kept sending me cocktails that I couldn’t actually drink. But there was something else on the page that seemed a little more onerous.
Allowing Zoo World access will let it pull your profile information, photos, your friends' info, and other content that it requires to work
In other words, play this game and kiss your privacy goodbye. Not just your privacy, but everyone on your friends list as well. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, why do you think someone would invest the time and money to develop these games and then give them away for free? Smart people – my friends are all very smart people – should think long and hard before clicking past that warning. Yet several of them have done just that along with 200,000 others.
Article continues after the jump...
Article continues after the jump...
Zoo World is the product of a company called RockYou (when are computer geeks going to realize that spaces are no longer prohibited?) In their own words, “As Facebook, MySpace and other major social networks blossomed into top-tier internet destinations, brands clamored to become a part of the conversation beyond banner ads. RockYou, one of the fastest growing tech companies ever, identified this need and extended its highly viral and visible application portfolio to house a unique social application-based advertising network.” Here’s my favorite line from their corporate website: “Don't become socially irrelevant. Socialize your brand.” Indeed.
Zoo World, like all Facebook apps, is the lure for delivering targeted ads. And that’s where the problem lies. In order to target the ads, the app has to know something about you. It turns out some apps know a lot more about you than you might like. Last fall, researchers at MIT conducted a study called Gaydar, which used the same data mining techniques that commercial app developers use. They were able to accurately predict user’s sexuality simply by examining the so-called publicly available information (PAI) in Facebook. PAI is anything that you do not specifically exclude under your privacy options except for one huge loophole. Some information, such as your friend’s list, is available to application developers regardless of your privacy settings and an application developer is pretty much anybody who says he is.
Everyone who uses Facebook should read this article by the Electronic Frontier Foundation: Facebook's New Privacy Changes: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
OK, maybe it doesn’t bother you that playing Zoo not only tells the world that your brain has turned to mush but it also provides a great deal of personal information to anyone who probes. Information that may be used to whatever purpose they choose whether it be innocuous or damaging. (Chinese Facebook user’s take note.) But even if you don’t care, consider this. When you click past that warning panel about access to your friend list, you open up that same vein of personal information for everyone on your list – without them even knowing.
That’s the 5000 pound gorilla in your zoo you never even saw.