Browsers Security

Thousands Gave Away Personal Data for Free on Facebook – Did You?

Dann Albright 26-11-2015

If you’re like thousands of other people on Facebook, you just gave away a ton of your personal information, for free, to a company you’ve never heard of. With no strings attached—they can do whatever they want with it, including selling it to whoever they’d like What Does Facebook Selling Your Data Mean For Privacy? Read More . And what did you get in return for it? A graphic that shows you the words you used most in your Facebook posts in the last year. Doesn’t seem like a great trade, does it?


What Happened?

The basics of the story are all over the Internet, so I won’t spend too much time going over the details. The short version goes like this: a new app hit Facebook a week or two ago, asking for some permissions in order to generate a nice-looking graphic that would show you your most commonly used words in posts over the last year. Hit “OK,” give it access to your timeline, and you get a cool graphic that shows you what you talk about a lot. Seems pretty cool, right?


Of course, few people bothered to look at the permissions the app asked for, which are “your public profile, friend list, and Timeline posts.” Which means Vonvon—the website behind the app—can see your birthday, hometown, current city, photos, likes, and a lot more. That’s a lot of information, and very little of it is required for the graphic that they give you in return.


In other words, you’ve been had.


What Will Happen to this Data?

Unfortunately, we just don’t know what Vonvon will do with all the information that they’ve received. Vonvon is a website that publishes a lot of ridiculous, trashy quizzes that you can take via Facebook. Here’s just a small sampling:


A quick look at Vonvon’s privacy policy turns up some worrying phrases. A lot of it is the standard stuff: we use your data to target ads Why Am I Seeing This Ad? How Social Media Ads Target You Every social media site out there shows us ads. But sometimes, those ads can get very specific towards you, often showing you ads that seem creepy and stalkerish. How do they do that? Read More , we keep your data until you tell us to get rid of it, and the like. But there are also these doozies: Vonvon won’t share your information without telling you (though updating their privacy policy counts as “telling you”), Vonvon isn’t responsible for the practices employed by any websites that they link to, they receive a wide variety of information that you probably didn’t know they were getting from third parties, and some of your data may remain in backup logs for longer periods.

Tons of other sites have gone over these things in detail, so let’s focus on something more useful: what to do now.


Kicking Vonvon Out of Your Facebook Account

First of all, you need to revoke Vonvon’s access to your Facebook account. Click on the Privacy settings button in the top-right corner of Facebook, and then select See More Settings.


Click Apps in the left sidebar and scroll down until you see vonvon. Click the X to the right of the image to get rid of it.



Unfortunately, they’ll still have any information that they got from your account previously. But this means they won’t be able to get any more in the future.

Next, click on Edit under Apps others use near the bottom of the page. This lets you change the information that’s available to Vonvon and other apps that your friends use. The more of the boxes are checked, the more of your information can be collected by apps that you’re not even using.


Finally, while you’re here, clean out the app permissions How to Manage Your Third-Party Facebook Logins [Weekly Facebook Tips] How many times have you allowed a third-party site to have access to your Facebook account? Here's how you can manage your settings. Read More . You’ll see a lot of things that still have access to your account even though you haven’t used them in years. Get rid of ’em.


What to Learn from this Debacle

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do if you’ve already given the app access to your information. Even if you didn’t, you may have given up some of your info when your friends used the app. There’s no going back.

Of course, this is all information that you’ve probably unwittingly given away anyway. It’s not like your passwords and bank accounts are in jeopardy. However, this is a great opportunity to learn from a big mistake. Here are three lessons that come to mind.

1. Think twice before posting.

This is a good thing to do anyway. Whether it’s outrage porn Outrage Porn Is Making You Angry And Dumb, Stop Looking At It Revenge porn is articles, pictures, cartoons or other media that are carefully crafted (either intentionally or not) to make people like you very offended, and very angry. Read More , a nasty political review Not About The Food: When Reviews Become War Sometimes reviews aren't about a business, but politics: whether or not you agree with something that the company has done or said. Is that okay? Read More , or just pictures from your weekend bender, make sure you want that piece of information to be out there forever with your name on it. Remember that these posts will often make their way in front of people who you don’t expect, and that they could be making decisions based on those posts.

2. Read app permissions.

This is a hard habit to get into. Permissions are boring, and when you’re asked whether you grant them or not, you’re usually trying to sign into an app or play a game, something that you don’t want to stop doing to read a privacy policy. But it’s really important. If you’re giving away information that doesn’t seem necessary for what you’re doing, understand that it’s probably being sold.

3. Remember that YOU are the product.

We’ve written about this before, but it’s worth mentioning again. In the world of free online resources, you are the product You Are The Product, Not The Client: The Personal Data Economy Explained As Andrew Lewis once said "If you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold". Think about the implications of that quote for a moment – how many free services... Read More . Whether it’s by putting ads in front of you, collecting data, influencing your opinions, or some other method, companies make money off of you when they provide a free service. That’s just what happens. And it’s a good thing to remember that.

An Easy Mistake

I don’t want to sound like I’m shaming anyone here – I was caught by this app, too. I wasn’t paying attention. And there are many people who will willingly give away that information, whether because they don’t post anything they don’t want others to get a hold of or because they’re just not concerned about who has their data. And if that’s an informed decision, it’s totally fine. It’s when it’s not an informed decision that worries me.

Did you use the Most Used Words app? Did you read the permissions first? Does it make you nervous that your data could be given away by your friends using the app? Share your thoughts below!

Related topics: Facebook, Online Privacy, Online Security.

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  1. James Twamney
    November 26, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    In relation to number 3, In the world of free online resources, you are the product ... this is not strictly true. Granted that you should always assume so if you don't know for certain but there are services out there that are free and open and don't try to make money from your data. Wikipedia (Wikimedia in general) is a good example. It runs from donations and contributions. You won't find any ads or trackers on the website, unless it's their own (un-targeted) ad asking to consider a donation, which in turn is exactly so they don't have to go down the route of tracking people so they can target ads, etc.

    • Dann Albright
      November 27, 2015 at 10:24 pm

      That's true; there are definitely completely free things out there. Most of those resources are from non-profit organizations, though, including Wikimedia. That's why they ask for donations and Facebook doesn't; that's definitely a way to tell the different. But yes, you're right—there are some free resources out there in which the user is not the product.

  2. Evan
    November 26, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    You're going to get spammed. You're going to get targeted ads.

    You already get spammed. You already get targeted ads.

    In other words, if your bank account and passwords are secure then you're fine. The rest of it is pretty much just the cost of using the Internet.

    • Dann Albright
      November 27, 2015 at 10:23 pm

      That may be true, but I think people probably want to know when they're giving away everything in their Facebook account. That seems pretty reasonable.