Top Facebook Apps Violate Privacy Terms: Report

No stranger to privacy concerns, Facebook is one again in in the privacy spotlight following a Wall Street Journal report that some popular Facebook applications leak personal information to advertisers.

"Many of the popular applications, or 'apps,' on the social-networking site Facebook Inc. have been transmitting identifying information -- in effect, providing access to people's names and, in some cases, their friends' names -- to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies," according to The Wall Street Journal, which wrote about Facebook Sunday in the latest installment of its recent "What They Know" series about advertising and the Internet.

The issue affects "tens of millions of Facebook app users," the Journal writes, "including people who set their profiles to Facebook's strictest privacy settings." Some of the apps cited by the Journal include FarmVille, by the Zynga Game Network, and Texas HoldEm Poker.

The newspaper's assertions come as Facebook faces continuing scrutiny over how well it protects its users' personal data.

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Last week, Facebook added a feature through which users can obtain disposable, single-use passwords for using Facebook on public computers. Facebook has also enabled users to see their recent log in activity in the Account Security section, to know where and how their account was recently accessed.

NEXT: Facebook's Response

In an early Monday response to the Journal's piece, Mike Vernal, a senior platform engineer at Facebook, wrote a statement on Facebook's Developer Blog and described the reports as "exaggerated" and suggested the concern stems from a design flaw in how Internet browsers work.

"Recently, it has come to our attention that several applications built on Facebook Platform were passing the User ID (UID), an identifier that we use within our APIs, in a manner that violated this policy," Vernal wrote. "In most cases, developers did not intend to pass the information, but did so because of the technical details of how the browsers work."

He doesn't call out the Journal specifically, but writes:

"Press reports have exaggerated the implication of sharing at UID [user ID]. Knowledge of a UID does not enable anyone to access private user information without explicit user consent. Nevertheless, we are committed to ensuring that even the inadvertent passing of UIDs is prevented and all applications are in compliance with our policy."

Facebook reportedly shut down some of the applications mentioned in the Journal piece over the weekend, including Gift Creator, Quiz Creator, Colorful Butterflies and several others. According to TechCrunch, those applications were back up and running as of early Monday.