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Your info: on expo

As the popularity of Facebook transcends MySpace, issues of personal information security have arisen, transforming fun ap­plications into risky ventures.

“There’s a different type of prob­lem with Facebook that people are not as aware of … and that concerns the way the personal information they confide flows to the application developers,” said Marc Rotenberg, president for Electronic Privacy Information Center, which researches to raise awareness for privacy and civil liberties issues.

Before an application can be downloaded, every user is required to allow the application — and any of its creators — to have access to his or her profile information and their Facebook friends’ informa­tion.

Turning privacy into piracy, any­one they agree to network with now has the ability to distribute person­al information to third parties.

Then again, there is Facebook’s number one principle: “People should have the freedom to share whatever information they want… as long as they both con­sent to the connection,” accord­ing to its Web site.

Just because a user chooses to reveal their information through the use of an application, should that justify the application’s ac­cess to the user’s friends’ personal information?

“Allowing application access will let it pull your profile infor­mation, photos, your friends’ info and other content that it requires to work,” according to the dis­claimer before an application on Facebook is downloaded.

Adding applications gives the creator access to a user’s entire profile, but users may not see what this information is being utilized for.

“Those programs get a lot more information than they need to re­ally do what they say they’re doing, and that has to do with the struc­ture of the program development in the Facebook environment, which I think needs to be looked at more closely,” said Rotenberg.

There has even been a group formed on Facebook by Kate Bauer in New York named “No, I will NOT invite 20 friends just to add your application!”

The group page went on to explain under its description, “SAY NO to forced invites, spam, violations of privacy and other misleading marketing practices! VOTE WITH YOUR MOUSE!” The group had 77,862 members at press time.

When an application requires a user to invite a minimum number of friends in order to use the ap­plication, “it’s spam in the sense that it’s enforced virality,” said Michael Calore, the Webmonkey editor for Wired. “They want their application to go viral so they force people to send it around like a virus. Even though it’s not really like spam, it’s unsolicited, which is still ‘spammy.’’          Another serious problem Rotenberg sees with Facebook is “people are using the Facebook platform to send spam, to hack ac­counts, to try and commit fraud,” through viruses such as Koobface.                                                                                                           Worse than a late-night bron­chitis cough, Koobface is an infec­tual cyber virus which was linger­ing around MySpace about a year ago. It causes infected computers to send fake URL links via these social networking Web sites. Once a user clicks the link, Koobface sends messages to the infected accounts’ friends, which display fake advertisements containing the link to further the Koobface virus. Now it is spreading like an illness around Facebook, affecting computers whose users click on specific links embedded in spam.                                                                                                                    Facebook has been active­ly working to end the virus. Similarly, attempting to take an IQ quiz on MySpace can be just as re­vealing as allowing any Facebook application.

For example, when you type in “Free IQ Test” for all of MySpace” into the the search bar, one of the sponsored links is www.FunEducation.com.

Upon entering this site and filling out the quiz, each page holds the misleading title “Free IQ Test,” until the truth of the

matter reveals itself after the user has already answered all of the questions. The quiz-taker must either “sign in” – after providing the Web site with personal infor­mation – or the user must provide an e-mail, password, name, age, gender and ZIP code in order to dis­cover the Web site’s opinion of the user’s “IQ.” Instead of paying with dollars, the user is forced to pay with their personal information, or not receive the site’s calculated IQ score. Rotenburg also anticipates credit card fraud to become a big­ger problem on Facebook as more users purchase items online from sites advertising on Facebook.

“When you install a new applica­tion, that application is only allowed to share the info in the user’s profile depending on how they’ve chosen to share that info on Facebook,” Calore said.

In the end, it is ultimately the user’s responsibility to safeguard their personal information. No third parties can misuse informa­tion that has not been voluntarily given by a user at any given time.

The next time a Facebook user is tempted to find out what their ghet­to name is, or what decade of rock they are, they might ask themselves if the results are worth the risk.

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