‘Your friend has sent you a request in DungeonThroneCrystalThingummy Game”…   Facebook, with it’d hundreds of millions of users, is of course a great platform for developers to create new applications – games for you to play, causes to support, new networks to join, and all sorts of quizzes and fun bits and bobs.  Apps can extend and enrich your Facebook experience… but sometimes you can run in to difficulties if you install Facebook apps, and you certainly shouldn’t do so unless you are very sure of what you are doing and why.

One of the first things to consider is who developed the app.  Of course Facebook provides a lot of them themselves, and others are from brands you may already trust and recognise such as media companies.  But others you may never have heard of.  Look at the URL in your address bar: https://apps.facebook.com/whatever-the-app-is means the app was NOT developed by or controlled by Facebook (the way that native apps such as Events and Places are).  As such if you install it whatever data and permissions you are handing over, you are handing to the third party developer.  Who is this third party?  You can find out, but it’s important to remember that Facebook has no formal review process for its application developers – it’s the polar opposite of app stores like Apple, anyone can publish anything, and unless it specifically dangerous or violatory it will not be removed – you are using it at your own risk.

It’s only fair to point out that the majority of these apps are not dangerous, in that they won’t harm your computer, spread any viruses, or make your car break down. Incidentally don’t be confused by anything on the internet said to be ‘spreading virally’ – that’s completely unrelated to computer viruses and just means something is spreading exponentially by people contacting and sharing – usually some inane video of a cute kitten.  Every internet marketer tries to ‘go viral’ and one way Facebook apps do this is by telling your friends that you are using it, and how great you are finding it, and so on.

Because this is this the big concern about Facebook apps, is you have to give away so much privacy when you start using them…  People are concerned enough about what Facebook itself knows and shares about you, but they are at least a global corporation under intense legislative scrutiny – not some game developer you have never heard of.  And just because you want to play a game, why on earth should you have to give an application  permission to “Access my basic information – Includes name, Profile picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends and any other information I’ve made public”  If your privacy settings are right (see http://costaconnected.com/facebook-privacy/ if you missed it) then you only chose to have ‘made public’ that information to a select group of people you actually know – so why would you want to hand it over to an anonymous software company?  Never mind that they also want you to permit them to “post status messages, notes, photos and videos on my behalf.” Thanks, but no thanks!

Why does this app need all this information..?

Personally, I trust that Facebook LLC is not going to use my information such as date of birth and location to attempt identity fraud, exploit my friends, or threaten my privacy.  I have been through their terms and conditions carefully and thoroughly, and feel I understand completely what the deal is when I share a piece of information with them – they’re no philanthropic society and could make those terms a great deal clearer, but they have far more to lose by breaking trust with their nearly 1bn users than any scammer.  These apps trade on the sense of security that creates, and that is where the risk comes from.

Of course some apps are just plain scams, and simply not what they say they are:  Facebook does NOT make it possible for anyone to create an app to show you who has viewed your profile, or ‘stalked’ you on their site – releasing that data would violate their own conditions, and as explained above they will not risk that!  Any app requests like this are deceitful and malicious, the best hope is that they are trying to solicit marketing and contact data from you in an underhand way, but it could be far worse.  Scams like these try to trade on shock value and topicality – look what this girls dad saw when he walked in, or the truth about Whitney’s post mortem… hoping people will click past the surveys and permissions in a rush to get to what they want to see.  Or trade on sheer hope and gullibility – if enough people share this, we will all get free iPads… I think not.

With your wits about you, you should be able to avoid these kind of scams fairly easily.  But what about apps by big international trusted brands?  Well, if you install the Telegraph reader, Spotify, or the Washington Post reader, then no one is going to try and trick you into downloading a virus.  But what a lot of these Facebook apps will sign you up for is ‘frictionless sharing’ – posting every detail of your activity on your Facebook feed.  You just need to ask yourself if that is what you want, because you can read articles or listen to music on the same services in complete privacy, just by not linking them to your Facebook account in the first place.

I think it may be a generational thing – there are lots of people, many of whom are younger than me, who seem totally comfortable sharing every action of their waking lives to their feeds, and like the way the latest changes at Facebook have made that so easy.  For me, social media is as much about curation and control as sharing, and I’d rather do that consciously as I go along!

Next week we’ll stay with Facebook and have a look at setting up and joining in groups – if you’ve got a favourite Facebook group that’s relevant to your life in Spain, let me know via info@costaconnected, or @casslar.

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