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Facebook denies privacy breach allegations by Symantec

Jaikumar Vijayan, Computerworld | May 11, 2011
Facebook today denied that it may have accidentally exposed personal user data to advertisers and other third parties for several years, as claimed this week by two security researchers at Symantec Corp.

Last October, for instance, the company found itself in the middle of a major firestorm after the Wall Street Journal reported that several popular Facebook applications such as FarmVille, Texas HoldEm Poker and FrontierVille had been secretly sending user information to advertisers.

Last year, the company was also hit with a lawsuit after some members claimed that changes the company made to its privacy settings made it even harder for users to control access to their personal data.

"This breach does not surprise me, because I've seen its like before in Facebook and in other Web sites [and] platforms," said Chris Palmer, technology director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Although this bug might quite likely be an accident, it is not the first of its kind in Facebook."

Providing advertisers with detailed profiles of Facebook users has been part of Facebook's business model, he said. "Therefore we can expect for this kind of security failure to arise again," he said. "The business model requires Facebook to walk a fine line between keeping advertisers happy and not angering too many users."

Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), said Facebook is working with a growing list of third parties who are in the business of collecting Facebook user information. "The company has the data collection for ad targeting spigot turned on -- so it's not a surprise that user information is leaking out to the others," Chester said.

"Facebook needs more than a digital plumbing job -- it needs to put a privacy policy in place that allows its members to actually control their information," Chester said.

 

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