Facebook to keep applications from sharing private information

By Brian Womack
(c) 2010 Bloomberg News
Monday, October 18, 2010; 3:29 PM

Facebook Inc., facing criticism about how it handles private data, said it's taking steps to keep user-identification information from being passed on to advertisers and other outside companies.

Applications, such as games, popular on Facebook are providing key information to networks that handle online-ad placement and companies that track Web surfing, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. The software passed "Facebook ID" numbers, or UIDs, which can be used to obtain user names, in a way that violated company policy, Facebook said.

"In most cases, developers did not intend to pass this information, but did so because of the technical details of how browsers work," Mike Vernal, an engineer at Facebook, wrote in the company's blog for software programmers.

The practice adds to pressure on Facebook to do a better job handling private information as it looks for ways to make money from the more than 500 million people who use its pages to play games, post photos and communicate with each other. Regulators and consumer advocates have urged the company to prevent unauthorized leaks to marketers that can use personal data to target ads at specific audiences.

While outside companies couldn't use the UIDs to access information without a user's consent, Vernal wrote, "we are committed to ensuring that even the inadvertent passing of UIDs is prevented and all applications are in compliance with our policy."

Rapleaf, a San Francisco-based startup that helps businesses learn about what potential customers are doing online, was among companies that transmitted Facebook user IDs, according to the Wall Street Journal. Rapleaf said in a blog posting that the transmissions were not the result of "any purposefully engineered process" of its own making and that it has stopped passing on information to advertising providers.

"When we discovered that Facebook ids were being passed to ad networks by applications that we work with, we immediately researched the cause and implemented a solution to cease the transmissions," the company said. "As of last week, no Facebook ids are being transmitted to ad networks in conjunction with the use of any Rapleaf service."

© 2010 bloomberg.com