Re-posted from thatsnonsence.com

by Craig Charles

When are those seemingly light-hearted, “entertaining” Facebook apps harmless fun and when are they something more sinister? This is a question we get quite a lot but there are no easy answers.

What is your nickname? What sort of personality do you have? What does your name say about you? Who was your best friend last year? Who has stalked you the most on Facebook? What are your most used words on Facebook?

These are but just a few apps that have been prolifically used on Facebook recently. Some simply analyze your activity on Facebook and present it to you in a “fun” way (e.g. the person you’ve interacted with the most is your “best friend on Facebook”) while others just make up stuff based on the arbitrary information you pass to them (e.g. your name means you have a “bright spark” personality.)

Most people would describe these apps as trashy, light-hearted fun and an innocent way to procrastinate on the Internet.

But there can be a darker side to these apps that we need to be aware of. The reality is that just about anyone can develop a Facebook app, and since the vetting process to weed out dangerous developers and their apps is poor, lots of rogue apps are available on the Facebook platform.

It is important to remember that each time you install a Facebook app, you give it access to certain information about you, as well as the ability to perform certain actions on your account. This means we’re essentially handing people we don’t know potentially valuable information about us, and we really should be asking ourselves if we trust these people to use that information responsibly.

When trashy “entertaining” apps go viral, we inevitably get a lot of questions about them. And the reality is that plenty of these apps should never have been installed by anyone. We recommend asking yourself the following questions before installing the latest “entertaining” app on your account…

Is the Facebook app asking for a lot of personal information it doesn’t need?

You can see what permissions a Facebook app will be granted access to just before you hit the install button. Most of these light-hearted apps really have no need to access a great deal of personal information about you, especially ones that purport to “reveal your true nickname” since we all understand that these apps are essentially just generating arbitrary information.

If the app seems to be asking for more permissions than it needs, this should be a red flag.

Do I trust the developer?

Do you know who developed the Facebook app? Do you trust them? If the app is asking for lots of permissions, it is important that we either trust the developer or we can perform our online due diligence to ensure they are trustworthy. It is important not to hand over copious amounts of personal information about us to people that we do not know since they can use our information against us or even sell it on to third party companies.

Is the Facebook App going to give me useful or accurate information?

Whilst we don’t want to burst any bubbles here, a Facebook app can’t tell you what sort of personality you have, or how you’re going to die, or your celebrity soulmate or your future partners name. It also can’t tell you who stalks your profile or who has blocked you.

So why give the people who developed the app access to your potentially invaluable personal information? The trade-off isn’t fair.

Does the developer have a privacy policy?

Do you know what the Facebook developer plans to do with your personal information? We can never really know if a developer will stick to what they claim in their privacy policy, especially if we don’t trust them, but it is worth reading them any way.

If you cannot answer any of these questions satisfactory, then we really need to ask ourselves whether installing the app is worth the risk. After all, most of these entertaining-trashy apps simply provide arbitrary information for a few moments of light-hearted interest and then we don’t think about them again.

But in the mean time, many of these developers are accumulating an incredibly valuable treasure trove of personal information that can be used for identity theft, sold off to marketing companies or used to target you with spam. Not all of these Facebook developers are nefarious, but unless you can identify a developer as legitimate, it is best to err on the side of caution.