Some Developers Have Privacy Concern with Facebook App Dashboards

The preview versions of Facebook’s new application dashboard and games dashboard have been live for a few days, but in anticipation of a wider rollout to users, some developers are expressing privacy concerns.

The dashboards are being introduced to aid application discovery, with the motivation being that users will interact with new applications and games by seeing what their friends are using. This should help to promote applications with high user engagement. Currently the dashboards are tucked away inside the Applications menu, but they’re expected to move to a more prominent position on the left side of the home page over the coming weeks.

In the main, developers have welcomed the dashboards, which may go some way to halt the expected decline in traffic that will arise due to some of the other upcoming changes. However, a potential privacy issue has been raised on the Facebook developer’s forum.

At its core, the problem is the unrestricted visibility of application usage of every user to all of their friends. The dashboards allow a user to see all of their friends’ three most recently used applications.  Looking through the list of my friends’ recent applications, I can see at least a couple of users of the “Zoosk” dating application, a handful of friends checking out the “Be Naughty!” app, and various horoscope and gifting applications.

Although some people may not have an issue with this information being visible to friends, there will be many that won’t like it. In fact, some are arguing that the stalking opportunities the dashboards offer are much more interesting than the chance of discovering new applications. The games dashboard is also useful for showing which friends have been playing games when perhaps they shouldn’t have been, so we may see a round of boss de-friending following their full launch if more privacy controls aren’t added.

There’s been no response from Facebook yet in the developer’s forum as to whether they regard any of this as a potential problem. Given the strong reaction of some users to recent privacy setting changes, we expect to see similar protests around this. If Facebook doesn’t make any changes, we could see changes in how users use some types of applications as a result.