FacebookI like Facebook.  It lets me stay in touch with people I like, with whom, for a reason of distance or other barriers, I would nornally lose contact.  It also lets me publish the occasional bon mot (which, being realistic for a minute, some of my friends probably block) or tell people about events in my life.

Of course, like any good thing, there are bad aspects also.  My personal peeve has been Facebook chain letters (you know, posts of the form “If you have any tiny vestige of patriotism/humanity you will put the following as your status for just 1 day/48 hours”), but recently I became aware of an even greater evil.

I’ve always been a bit suspicious of Facebook applications.  I blocked Farmville my first few days on Facebook.  I don’t have time for it, and I’m not sure why, but I find people giving me random Farmville objects strangely annoying.  Ditto for other Facebook games.  But two Facebook applications have recently tempted me.

A friend of mine uses NetworkedBlogs to send notifications of her blog posts to people on Facebook, and I play in a progressive rock band that wants to use Profile Pages for Musicians to promote the band.  Just out of curiousity, I clicked on the invite to Profile Pages for Musicians to see what I would allow if I accepted.  Below is what it showed me (with my email address removed).  They can:

  • Access my basic information
    Includes name, profile picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends, and any other information I’ve shared with everyone.
  • Send me email
    Band Profile: Profile Pages for Musicians may email me directly at <insert your email address here>
  • Post to my Wall
    Band Profile: Profile Pages for Musicians may post status messages, notes, photos, and videos to my Wall
  • Access posts in my News Feed
  • Access my data any time
    Band Profile: Profile Pages for Musicians may access my data when I’m not using the application
  • Manage my pages
    Band Profile: Profile Pages for Musicians may login as one of my Pages
  • Access my profile information
    Birthday and Hometown
I may be just showing my age, but I’m a little bit horrified that by accepting the invitation to the application, I am:
  • Providing tons of information about me, including stuff I only let my friends see
  • Providing a list of who my friends are
  • Giving them access to see all the posts by my friends (who may have privacy settings that are supposed to prevent this)
  • Giving them access to my news feeds, so they can see what my interests are and what stuff I “like”
  • Giving them my email address and allowing them to spam me
  • Letting them post stuff to my wall (which gets around my friends trying to block the application)
  • Letting them look up my information even if I am not using their application
  • And even letting them manage my Facebook pages!  

Note that I have my privacy settings moderately strict, so others may allow even greater access by accepting the invitation.  Facebook trusts those who provide the applications to act responsibly (in compliance with a vague policy), and has kicked out applications that do the most egregious violations (like posting blatant ads to people’s friends’ walls).  But Facebook does nothing to prevent the application from quietly gathering lots of data as long as it doesn’t do anything obvious that upsets users, and has no measures to enforce its rules other than kicking the application out after the fact.

I absolutely hate the idea that I am becoming an old Luddite curmudgeon, but, if I am honest, I will not be joining these or other Facebook applications, and you might think about adopting the same policy.