Privacyscore for Facebook Offers Users Insight Into Apps

Facebook’s Privacyscore browser tool offers users a quick way to gauge the discretion of an app before allowing it access to their Facebook profiles. Some apps share more information than others.

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.