Facebook in recent times has turned itself into a bit of a developer’s playground, although it still maintains stringent standards and regularly polices spammy applications and offensive content, there is still a great loophole that remains for tech-pirates looking to capitalise on their loose policy on gaming applications.
If you’re not familiar with gaming applications on Facebook, it’s pretty straight forward stuff. The walls of Facebook are plastered with application activity – paid ads, news feed posts from friends and endowed deep within many search results. If you’re looking for a game on Facebook, you don’t really have to look hard at all. Aside from littering your friend’s wall posts with activity spam, the games on Facebook are generally pretty harmless. So what’s the issue with Facebook gaming apps?
Well, when you signed up for Facebook, you were made to agree on one of the more critical sign-up terms that forebodes you of all personal information being stored forever in the great mystical Facebook inf0rmation vault. So how does this apply to gaming applications?
If you have actually been bored enough to immerse yourself in a Facebook game, upon syncing your facebook profile to the application you’re hit with a disclaimer that blatantly states: “Allowing access will let it access your profile information, photos, your friends’ info and other content that requires it to work.” The terms are given in black and white, and there’s even a game rating to give you an idea of the game quality. You are presented with simple terms that do not hinder your attention away from the intent of the game. But it’s just a disclaimer, right?
It is a common consumer trend to ignore the fine print, and it’s been that way since the dawn of time really… When you buy something from the store, you disregard the terms and conditions specified on the receipt. The same applies within the online world… You create an email account and check all the boxes to speed up the process and ignore the fine print up until you’re getting inundated with spam down the track. The digital realm is an informational society. Each time you are registering with something online, in this case the gaming apps on Facebook, you’re giving a third party both qualitative and quantitative access to your personal data.
The question arises… What exactly are developers doing with your personal information, and is it ethical?
When we sign up for Facebook, we disregard any matters of security given such wide acceptance of the brand name and its household popularity. It’s a natural inclination, a compulsion to sign up without thinking of an dire implications. Blind trust is never intelligent, but we are all guilty of confiding in respected brand name without giving it a second thought.
This is what makes us vulnerable, and this is where game developers on Facebook are acting unethically in preying upon the loyal Facebook subscriber base and their blind trust in the website. Games like Farmville have been extremely sly in developing an “in-game currency” that works to build up your strength in the game and haplessly fuel your addiction to sitting online and literally watching your grass grow. It basically works like this – if you want to get anywhere in the game at all, you need to have in-game wealth. To obtain your wealth, Farmville allows your to purchase this in game currency using your credit card – which is fine – as it is a secure application, and such practice is common throughout the internet (see habbohotel.com for a textbook example). Upon signing up to Farmville, allowing them access to your personal data is a condition of playing – this is perfectly reasonable given that the terms are made abundantly clear. Essentially, upon even getting you to sign up, the game’s mother company is given invaluable amounts of marketing data that can be used for future scams… *cough*… I mean initiatives.
Here’s the sneaky part. Games like farmville provide free ways for you to earn in-game currency – and for the helplessly addicted users, this means more Farmville credits and no money spent. The catch is that in order to earn this free currency, you need to participate in lead gen-type offers – some of which can actually fool you into giving out your phone number or credit card. Start-up game developers who create the popular viral games such as Farmville are coaxed into the generous offers given by dodgy advertisers to have their scams synced up to games like farmville… Check out the post from Michael Arrington of TechCrunch.com and you’ll see exactly what I mean. If you want something even more eye-opening, read the guest post by Dennis Yu, aptly titled “How to spam Facebook like a pro: An insider’s confession“.
It is only fair for developers to be getting paid for their hard-work in creating online games, however there needs to be restrictions imposed on the dodgy deals taking place between developers and spam sharks to gain access to the millions of users obliviously playing Facebook game applications. How can a developer detect a scam? I guess it all comes down to the advertisers intent. Developers need to assert higher levels of integrity when funding their applications, and take a lesson out of business ethics 101. As for the scam sharks, they will forever continue to exist wherever there are advertising loopholes.
Do you use Farmville…? Does giving away potentially comprimising data make it worth the harvest… Or are you effectively joining a rural village of the damned?