Happily Ever After? RapLeaf Backs Off Facebook

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privacy_smallADOTAS – When the news first broke, some commentators suggested that Facebook would try and pin the blame for its recent user ID (UID) giveaway through applications on a smaller third party. The social network got lucky that The Wall Street Journal turned its sites on RapLeaf, a data collector that builds user profiles with real names and email addresses.

RapLeaf did send UIDs to data purchasers, though it claims that was unknowingly. The company has come to an agreement with Facebook to back off the social platform and delete UIDs it collected — at quite a cost to its business, I imagine. Facebook has developed a technical solution for keeping UIDs anonymous that will be a requirement for applications come the beginning of next year.

To top it off, the company added anonymous identifiers to the protected category of Facebook data that can’t be brokered. Less than a dozen small developers that were selling UIDs have received a six-month ban from the site and will have to undergo a rigorous audit to get back on the platform.

However, the issue in the end wasn’t whether advertisers were using UIDs to get names of users and public Facebook data. As in the past, Facebook cut corners regarding anonymizing users in applications, a violation of its privacy policy. It appears the social network passed up a proxy system that would have required a little more elbow grease to integrate — but the modus operandi at Facebook seems to be “fix it when someone notices.” Users should continue to question whether Facebook’s privacy policy is worth the URL it appears on.

Facebook’s snafu awakened a great deal of concern over online data collecting, and I don’t think I can describe it better than columnist Brandt Dainow — the tracking industry has been overzealous and its chickens are coming home to roost.

But The Wall Street Journal’s coverage of this space has alternated between hysterical and confusing — it doesn’t help consumers understand how tracking works if the voice of authority is reminiscent of Chicken Little. Instead of straightforward explanations, the “What They Know” series has been fueled by paranoia. And personally I can’t believe the paper has included no discussion of perfectly legal offline tracking practices as a point of reference. Nope, Rupert Murdoch’s publication wanted to scare the willies out of you.

The effect — we have our villain: RapLeaf. After learning an important lesson in respecting the little people, Facebook has kicked RapLeaf off its system. And they all lived happily ever after — a convenient media narrative.

This story is nowhere close to over, especially because there’s a dearth of leadership regarding tracking best practices. As a Federal Trade Commission member suggested that the agency was leaning toward industry self-regulation in an upcoming report on behavioral targeting, you gotta wonder if that’s going to be enough to convince the browsing public that the Internet is not a surveillance state.

1 COMMENT

  1. Most websites don’t have any profile data on their users or on the contrary have so much data they don’t know how to use it. The bottom line is the same in both cases – those websites go run ads of 3rd party ad networks.

    However, Facebook gives its apps/games an invaluable asset in form of free access to up-to-date user profile and social data. The funny part that again, most Facebook apps/games don’t make smart use of this data and still go count on 3rd party ad-networks and offers-wall.

    The picture is different when you go look at the top games. Those really know to dig into the user data and optimize the user experience and their monetization method. I suggest that the smaller apps/games would start learning from the big guys and go adopt smart optimization technologies that can help them deliver better user experience and do more money just by using the data more smartly.

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