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How much do your Facebook apps know about you?

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The latest Facebook fad, the 'Most Used Words' cloud, has started up another conversation about data privacy, and whether we are letting our guard down on social media sites.

The app is run by Vonvon, a South Korean company, and allows you to see the words you've used most often in statuses in an aesthetically pleasing cloud. The finished article is posted to your timeline, for no real purpose other than to encourage the next person to have a go.

The data it requests in return for these seconds of amusement is a veritable feast of your personal information; as well as every status, it has permission to collect your photos, friends list, birthday, gender, hometown, current city, likes, even your education history.

Although it is certainly not the only app to want such unlimited access to all your Facebook information, Vonvon's privacy policy does raise some red flags; retaining non-personally-identifying information after termination of your membership, sharing your information with third parties, and noting that the privacy policy does not extend to these third parties.

It all sounds very terrifying, but actually a substantial amount of this information will be public already. The privacy settings in Facebook are fairly limited, and although you can opt to have your profile not appear in search engines that doesn't keep your information private when its viewed through Facebook.

If you want to check how your profile appears to a stranger, you can do this within Facebook itself.

1. Go to your timeline, and click the three dots in the bottom right hand corner of your cover photo

Dots

2. Click 'View as...'

View As...

3. By default, you should now be viewing your profile as 'Public'. You can also view it as a specific person using the grey bar at the top.

Public

You can also check which apps have access to what information through Facebook.

1. Click the 'lock' icon in the top right hand corner of Facebook.

Lock

2. Click 'See more settings'

See More Settings

3. Click 'Apps'

Apps

You will then be presented with the 'App Settings' page, which will show you which apps you have logged into using Facebook, and what data they have access too. By clicking on one, you are able to see what information they have access to - and its likely to be a lot more than Vonvon was requesting.

App Settings

It's also worth checking out the couple of sentences at the top from Facebook themselves, 'On Facebook, your name, profile picture, cover photo, gender, networks, username and user ID are always publicly available to both people and apps.' People, applications and Facebook itself have legal access to any information you upload and make public. The 'I do not give Facebook permission to use my pictures/information/dog's birthday...' status isn't going to make any difference. 

Why isn't the information I upload to Facebook private?

When you sign up to Facebook, you are making a large amount of what you might consider private information (your age, your gender, your interests, etc.) public. Using this information, Facebook can sell advertisement space to companies wishing to target certain demographics, ie. 'Men older than 25'.

When you use the internet, whether it is Facebook or Google or Amazon, a certain amount of your 'non-personally identifying' information is retained. That's how Amazon gives you recommended purchases, and Google predicts what you search is. Using the internet and remaining completely anonymous is very difficult.

Collecting this information is how websites know to adapt when you're using a mobile, what language you're expecting to view something in, etc. It does not mean we all need to panic and start throwing our Wi-Fi devices out the window. The problem lies in whether the company requests 'personal' information that could identify you, and whether they will act responsibly with this data and in accordance with the law.

So is Vonvon's 'Most Used Words' safe to use?

The only real concern with Vonvon's cloud is that by posting a load of words that 'define' your online presence, the app may have inadvertently revealed a password. Dave Kennedy of the Transcendit Support team says, 'The cloud image produced by the app contained things like children's and pet's names, places, sports teams and so on. If I was a nefarious individual these are all things I would like to get my hands on to try as passwords.'

Whether you adore Facebook quizzes and uncontrollably share the results, or grit your teeth in anger as your friends post which slice of pizza they most resemble, next time you see that 'Allow' button think about whether you really know what the company is going to do with your information. And if you don't, maybe skip the quiz.


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