Sorry that blogging here has been so quiet. This is largely because I have been busy preparing for my wedding, on 24th October, and of course spending time with my beautiful fiancée.
In recent weeks several of my Facebook friends have invited me to take interesting quizzes on Facebook. These include Wayne Leman and ElShaddai Edwards, who have done so in blog posts, as well as various friends who have invited me with Facebook notifications.
The problem with this is that when I try to take these quizzes I typically get a message something like:
Allowing access will let it access your Profile information, photos, your friends’ info and other content that it requires to work.
I am required to allow this access before I can take the quiz. In other words, I have to give to a piece of software about which I know almost nothing access to personal information not just about myself but also about all my friends. If “your friends’ info” means what is on their profiles, it includes e-mail addresses, sometimes postal addresses and phone numbers (not my own), and all kinds of other details which people are happy to share with their friends, but not to make public.
Of course if the quiz program can access this information, so can its author – who can use it for marketing or sending spam, or sell it to the highest bidder. That may well be a breach of Facebook rules, but how well are these rules enforced?
Presumably each of my Facebook friends who has taken one of these quizzes has given the program permission to access my profile information, which is intended to be for my friends alone to see but not to pass on to unknown third parties. I am not at all happy that any of my friends have done that; I consider that they have acted unethically. But if I chose to de-friend them I would probably hardly have any friends left.
ElShaddai, in a comment in reply to mine, writes:
AFAIK, Peter, the “friends’ info” is applicable to the last step in the quiz where it asks you if you want to invite your friends to take the quiz.
Indeed, as far as he knows. But what I am worried about is what he doesn’t know, what the unknown author of the quiz software is not saying. He may be right, of course, but how do I know that he is right? I’m afraid “AFAIK” is not an acceptable defence on an ethical issue, just as it isn’t in a court of law.
My real concern is that this quiz program is in fact an elaborate trojan horse, installing itself in millions of Facebook users’ computers worldwide, collecting personal information on the side for some kind of nefarious purpose, or at least for a mass marketing campaign. Can anyone reassure me that there is no danger of this? I know Facebook has had to stop rogue applications before. Could this be another one?