If you’re not careful, I guarantee you’ll bet your privacy away.
The way it works is Facebook, MySpace, Hi5, Bebo, and other participating social networks allow third-party developers to create games and other applications that are accessible to the network users.
“They’ve become enormously popular, with users playing poker, getting daily horoscopes, and sending one another virtual cocktails,” wrote Washington Post reporter Kim Hart in June 2008. “More than 95 percent of Facebook users have installed at least one application.”
Zynga CEO Mark Pincus uses phrases like “explosive growth,” “network effect,” and “high click rates,” when referring to his company’s games, in an interview with Nick O’Neill, talking about financial metrics and the Facebook developer platform.
“The more successful games there are…the bigger the audience,” said Pincus.
In the viral social example of Texas Hold’Em Poker, you get 200 free chips when signing up, can win more chips when beating friends or strangers at one of hundreds of virtual tables, and you can earn 1,000 free chips for every friend you invite.
Before playing the game (or adding any other application to your Facebook profile), you see the following screen shot:
Do you see the link at the bottom for the “Facebook Platform User Terms of Service?”
Clicking it, which I’m guessing few people do, brings up a page that says, among other aspects, that you agree to share who you are with the developer.
While your contact information (such as your e-mail address) and user ID won’t be provided, you agree to provide “without limitation,” the following information:
- your name
- your profile picture
- your gender
- your birthday
- your hometown location (city/state/country)
- your current location (city/state/country)
- your political view
- your activities
- your interests
- your musical preferences
- television shows in which you are interested
- movies in which you are interested
- books in which you are interested
- your favorite quotes
- the text of your “About Me” section
- your relationship status
- your dating interests
- your relationship interests
- your summer plans
- your Facebook user network affiliations
- your education history
- your work history
- your course information
- copies of photos in your Facebook Site photo albums
- metadata associated with your Facebook Site photo albums (e.g., time of upload, album name, comments on your photos, etc.)
- the total number of messages sent and/or received by you
- the total number of unread messages in your Facebook in-box
- the total number of “pokes” you have sent and/or received
- the total number of wall posts on your Wall
- a list of user IDs mapped to your Facebook friends
- your social timeline
- events associated with your Facebook profile
The data is only available to developers for 24 hours, and Facebook has security measures in place to weed out spammers and hackers who want to use your data in malicious ways. Still, with 400,000 developers of over 25,000 applications, that’s a lot of code for the Facebook team to keep track.
The more applications you display on your profile, the more external developers have access to your personal information. I should add that all Facebook profiles, unless a box in the “account settings” is not checked, are available to the public.
Moreover, even if you don’t include any identifiable information in your profile and hide it from public searches, if an application is used by your friend, then the application may search your friend’s friends, which includes you and your data.
You see why it’s called a viral game?
Don’t get me wrong, though. Facebook has over 100 million users worldwide and it is very useful for keeping in touch with long-lost friends, sharing photos, and spreading karma. The games are fun, too. But be careful what you provide for the world to see.
Kathryn Pope offers practical advice and tips to increase your Facebook productivity.
If you’re a developer interested in building a widget (as the applications are known) for Facebook, Hi5, or some other social network, Stephen Spencer provides best practices on widget design and deployment and Jennifer Jones adds they are an easy and useful way to increase traffic, sales, and news for your online brand.