Feeds

Facebook application hawks your personal opinions for cash

Insecure and antisocial networking

Business security measures using SSL

Updated A popular Facebook application that promises users privacy in exchange for opinions on their friends is acting as a stooly by offering the information for others to buy.

The "Compare People" (account required) application has become one of the most used services on the Facebook platform since it opened to outside developers in May. It has about 475,000 users - eight percent of Facebook subscribers.

It works by presenting a pair of your friends head-to-head and inviting you to vote on aspects of their tastes, work, personality and looks. Questions include "who is more creative?" and "who would you rather sleep with?".

The sign-up page promises that those being compared will not be able to find out how you rated them. It says: "Your friends cannot find out how you compared them except when it's an innocuous compliment. For example, if someone loses a comparison, they will not know that they lost.

"If you rate/compare someone on a dating question, they won't know how you chose. There is no way for someone to look at the rank lists and see who said what about them."

Developer Ivko Maksimovic has recently begun an attempt to make money from users that appears to ride roughshod over these assurances. For a $9.49 PayPal payment, Compare People's "Premium" service (screengrab) invites you to "Improve yourself" by snooping on how your friends rated you - in what they thought was a secret ballot. Data on offer includes:

  • Who are your true friends?: see who has the best opinion of you
  • Who are your best references?: see who has the highest professional and academic opinion of you
  • Your wins and losses: a question-by-question recounting of exactly who you won and lost to

Maksimovic says the whole thing is a misunderstanding.

"We DO NOT violate anonymity and we DO NOT reveal who voted on you how, even in the premium section," he wrote in the comments section to this story. "There is a wins and losses feature that shows who you won against and who you lost against, but it goes to great pains to NOT show you who did the voting."

Maksimovic says he has suspended new sign ups of the premium service until he figures out a way to clarify exactly what information is given out. "As I said before, no anonymity is being violated, but better safe than sorry," he explains.

Yesterday witnessed an unsightly rash of ponderous stories in the national press about concerns over privacy on Facebook. This was mostly the work of Phil Space and Polly Filler, because the young firm has hired a UK PR agency who held an event on Monday that didn't yield any news. Executives including privacy chief Chris Kelly swatted away collywobbles over targeted advertising and the plan to make profiles googleable.

Compare People, however, is selling private information given over in good faith to make a quick, dirty shilling from people's insecurities.

Facebook has well covered its posterior on third-party developers and will no doubt distance itself from Compare People as soon as users begin to complain about being sold down the river. A disclaimer on application homepages reads: "Facebook is providing links to these applications as a courtesy, and makes no representations regarding the applications or any information related to them. Any questions regarding an application should be directed to the developer." ®

Bootnote

The "bait and switch" was noticed by the Sugarrae blog. Thanks to Reg reader Steve for the tip.

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
'Windows 9' LEAK: Microsoft's playing catchup with Linux
Multiple desktops and live tiles in restored Start button star in new vids
iOS 8 release: WebGL now runs everywhere. Hurrah for 3D graphics!
HTML 5's pretty neat ... when your browser supports it
Mathematica hits the Web
Wolfram embraces the cloud, promies private cloud cut of its number-cruncher
Google extends app refund window to two hours
You now have 120 minutes to finish that game instead of 15
Intel: Hey, enterprises, drop everything and DO HADOOP
Big Data analytics projected to run on more servers than any other app
Mozilla shutters Labs, tells nobody it's been dead for five months
Staffer's blog reveals all as projects languish on GitHub
SUSE Linux owner Attachmate gobbled by Micro Focus for $2.3bn
Merger will lead to mainframe and COBOL powerhouse
iOS 8 Healthkit gets a bug SO Apple KILLS it. That's real healthcare!
Not fit for purpose on day of launch, says Cupertino
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.