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Facebook games maker sued in privacy flap

Zynga allegedly sent IDs for 218 million users

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

A developer of some of Facebook's most popular games has been hit by a federal lawsuit alleging it shared millions of Facebook user IDs with advertisers and data brokers.

The lawsuit alleges that Zynga, maker of six of the top 10 Facebook games, collected and shared the IDs of 218 million users, in violation of federal law and terms of service. It seeks unspecified monetary damages and an injunction preventing the alleged practice from continuing. The suit was filed in US District Court in San Francisco on behalf of Nancy Graf of St. Paul, Minnesota. It seeks class action status so other Facebook users may also be represented.

The action follows an investigation by The Wall Street Journal that found that a large number of Facebook apps, including all of the top 10, transmitted the unique user IDs of those who ran them to outside companies. Zynga – maker of games such as Farmville, Mafia Wars, and Cafe World – was found to be “transmitting personal information about a user's friends to outside companies,” the paper reported.

It remains debatable just how damaging the practice is to user privacy. Both Facebook and Zynga have long pledged not to share personally identifiable information with third parties, so the transmittal of a unique user ID would appear to violate that policy. Then again, it's unclear how much information can be gleaned from IDs for users who have set all of their account information to be private.

Zynga representatives have said the lawsuit is without merit and the company plans to defend itself vigorously.

The investigation caught the attention of US Representatives Edward Markey and Joe Barton, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, who on Monday wrote Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg a letter (PDF) grilling him on the practice.

“Given the number of current users, the rate at which that number grows worldwide, and the age range of Facebook users, combined with the amount and the nature of information these users place in Facebook’s trust, this series of breaches of consumer privacy is cause for concern,” they wrote. ®

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