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Facebook developers exiled for selling user IDs to brokers

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Facebook is taking action against developers who flouted company rules by selling unique user IDs to a data broker.

The unnamed developers, which numbered fewer than 12, won't have access to Facebook communication channels for six months, Facebook platform engineer Mike Vernal said on Friday. They also will be required to submit their data practices to a third-party auditor to confirm they comply with Facebook policies.

Facebook has also reached an agreement with data broker Rapleaf, which according to a Wall Street Journal investigation linked Facebook user IDs it got from games developers to its own database of Internet users, which it sells. Rapleaf will delete all the IDs in its possession and has promised not to conduct similar activities in the future.

“In taking these steps, we believe we are taking the appropriate measures to ensure people stay in control of their information, while providing developers the tools they need to create engaging social experiences,” Vernal said. “We look forward to broader cooperation from everyone in the web community to confront issues that impact all of us.”

The action comes after the WSJ caught Facebook transmitting the user IDs of those playing some of the site's most popular games to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies. The disclosure came even as Facebook's terms of service promised that personally identifiable information would never be sold to advertisers or data brokers.

The allegations are now part of a federal lawsuit filed against Zynga, developer of some of the social network's most popular apps. The complaint claims Zynga collected and shared the IDs of 218 million users. Zynga has said the complaint is without merit. A similar lawsuit has been filed against Facebook.

The user IDs by themselves don't reveal personal information, but when combined with other information, they could jeopardize user privacy, critics contend. Facebook recently introduced plans to encrypt user IDs to prevent inadvertent sharing. So-called parameter encryption could make it harder for data brokers, intelligence agencies and other snoops to track the activities of Facebook users. ®

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