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March 31, 2009, Volume 55, No. 27

One Step Ahead

Another tip in a series provided by the Offices of Information Systems & Computing and Audit, Compliance & Privacy.

Be Careful with Facebook Apps

As an older generation joins their co-workers, old friends, and maybe a few uncomfortable teenagers on Facebook, it’s time for a primer on privacy:

1. Be careful with Facebook apps.

2. Check and recheck your privacy settings.

Facebook apps are software programs usually intended to allow users to connect, interact, and entertain themselves. Some apps, like Photos and Wall, were written by Facebook, but the vast majority are written by 400,000+ third-party developers.

When you install an app, the developer can see everything on Facebook that you can see: all of your personal information, and everything that you can see about your friends and Network neighbors. (Networks are groups of Facebook users. Most Penn faculty, staff, students and alums are in the UPENN network.) Similarly, your personal information is available to developers through any apps installed by your friends or Network neighbors. App developers can store this information on their servers outside of Facebook and must agree not to misuse their privileged access, but Facebook has no controls to prevent or detect abuse. To protect your privacy, you can limit what developers can see about you through your friends’ apps, but that is not the default setting.  

So be sure to check your privacy settings regularly at www.facebook.com/privacy. Click on Applications to control what information third-party developers can see about you through your friends’ and Network neighbors’ Facebook  apps, and to avoid having your purchases at eBay, Travelocity and Blockbuster and other sites advertised to your friends by Facebook Beacon. Click on Profile to control who can see your birthday, phone number, friends, activities, interests, and more. Click on Search to control who can search for you with search engines like Google. Click on News Feed and Wall to control who can see your chat conversations and posts exchanged with friends, and to opt out of Social Ads that announce your online purchases and group activities.

To see what apps you have installed, log on to Facebook, and click on Settings->Application Settings.

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For additional tips, see the One Step Ahead link on the Information Security website: www.upenn.edu/computing/security/.

Almanac - March 31, 2009, Volume 55, No. 27