A new service that grades how each of Facebook's top third-party apps respects consumers' privacy was released late Sunday by research firm PrivacyChoice. The free tool, Privacyscore for Facebook, spells out privacy policies and tracking practices of more than 200 top Facebook apps, including games, work-related programs and sharing apps.
Online tracking is fueling a heated national debate over whether new do-not-track laws are needed to safeguard consumers' online privacy. Leaders in the online advertising industry use a version of Privacyscore to self-police the tracking practices of online advertising networks, and thus head off new laws. Privacy experts welcomed the consumer version.
"This certainly is going to be a useful tool for consumers, but it may actually be even more useful in pushing application developers, who don't like getting poor grades, to look more closely at their own privacy practices," says Jules Polonetsky, director of the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington, D.C., think tank on data security.
Facebook's pervasive Web presence comes with "a responsibility to hold people who are developing apps on their platform accountable for the (privacy) assertions that they're making," says Craig Spiezle, executive director of the Online Trust Alliance.
Facebook's David Swain noted that the company requires app developers to agree to its privacy policies. "If we find an app has violated our policies … we take action," Swain says.
According to PrivacyChoice, 140 different tracking entities routinely collect information about users of the top Facebook apps. Trackers can correlate that data to profiles of individuals' browsing behavior across multiple Web pages in order to deliver more relevant ads. "It's up to users to know the privacy risk of sharing personal data with apps," says Jim Brock, PrivacyChoice founder and CEO.
Privacyscore's top score is 100. Deductions are made for sharing data with an excessive number of tracking entities, failing to honor deletion requests, failing to provide an opt-out choice or storing consumer data for long periods.
Gamemaker Zynga , for instance, registers an overall score of 82 for 17 Facebook games. The game Slingo, with 17 million players, scores 80, losing points partly because it connects to 59 trackers. Zynga general counsel Reggie Davis says Zynga welcomes tools such as Privacyscore. And Zynga's online tutorial, PrivacyVille, rewards its users for learning more about the company's privacy policies.