Privacyscore for Facebook Offers Users Insight Into Apps

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2012-04-23

Every Facebook application has its own privacy policy, making it a challenge for Facebook users to keep track€”or even have a vague idea€”of when and how much of their information is being shared. In response, PrivacyChoice, offering consumers a quick way to make more informed decisions, has introduced Privacyscore, a free browser-based tool it€™s calling the first and only €œprivacy guide to the Facebook app universe.€

With a possible top score of 100, Privacyscore can give an instant score to an app before a user grants it permission to his or her Facebook profile.

€œFacebook users can now see and instantly understand which apps protect their privacy and which don€™t and can know if they€™ll be tracked and by whom,€ the company said in an April 23 statement.

Privacyscore also published research comparing the scores of top app publishers. Playdom, with a 93 out of 100, ranked the highest, followed by Electronics Arts, with a 91.

€œOther popular app publishers fell below that standard, with Zynga at 82 and K-Factor Media at 72,€ PrivacyChoice said in its statement. The average score for all Facebook apps reviewed was a 78.

€œFacebook users deserve better than a C-plus when it comes to their privacy,€ added PrivacyChoice founder and CEO Jim Brock.

Finally, the company also created a Heatmap, which links real-time evaluations of more than 640 tracking companies. Those found to present a heightened privacy risk glow orange and red on a map, versus shades of green. Oddly, the map is tied to an Apps Trackerlist with a possible high score of 50.

Breaking the story, USA Today reported that 140 tracking entities routinely collect information about users of the top Facebook apps, correlating the data €œto profiles of individuals' browsing behavior across multiple Web pages in order to deliver more relevant ads.€

€œIt€™s important for consumers to keep control of their own information, and to understand what companies have possession of it,€ Brock said in a video interview on the USA Today site. €œIf Facebook doesn€™t provide that kind of visibility, we€™re going to.€

Whether Facebook and other sites should be obligated to share such details is a matter that federal regulators are currently considering.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), in an official April 2 letter regarding the Multistakeholder Process to Develop Consumer Data Privacy Codes of Conduct, called the Internet an €œincredible creation€ but added that €œprivacy laws have not kept up with these changes, and consumers are frequently and unknowingly paying for those innovations with their personal information and, inevitably, their privacy.€

Later in the letter, Franken described how researchers at Carnegie Mellon, with a consumer-grade digital camera, publically available photos from Facebook and off-the-shelf facial-recognition software from a company subsequently purchased by Google, were able to €œsuccessfully identify unknown students walking through a campus and correctly predict those students€™ interests and partial Social Security numbers.€

Moreover, Facebook recently rolled out a Tag Suggestions feature, contributing to users now tagging and identifying 100 million faces every day. Given the tremendous number of photos in Facebook€™s database, wrote Franken, €œFacebook likely holds the largest and most accurate privately held collection of faceprints€€” earlier described as digital files comparable to fingerprints€”€œin the world.€

To be clear, he added, facial recognition could be a positive and powerful tool for public safety. The key is to ensure that safeguards are in place so that the benefits €œaren€™t outweighed by negative effects on privacy.€

PrivacyChoice€™s Brock, in a blog post, added that industrywide privacy efforts, such as Do Not Track standards, depend €œon the kind of transparency€ that tools like Privacyscore provide.


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