12: Facebook Applications

(EN: Repeating this notice at the head of each chapter: the specific details of this book are likely outdated, but the core concepts of social networking are likely timeless.)

(EN: A word of caution right up front is that applications are a severe threat to privacy on FB. A silly little application that sends a picture to a friend may have access to your work history, contact information, and many other details it doesn't really need to know to deliver the functionality it promises. People seem to be very careless and developers seem to be very greedy about wanting access to such details. The level to which applications compromise users' privacy is not prominent enough for my liking - hence this note at the beginning of the chapter rather than constant interjections of concern.)

Facebook has become a popular platform for developing various kinds of applications, which range from game applications (such as Farmville), applications that extend the kinds of items you can share (such as books you have read or movies you have watched), or even to do frivolous things (such as sending an illustration of a bouquet of flowers to a friend).

There are a wide array, and many developers who provide a wide range of functionality, and the author touts them as " a fun way to get the most out of your Facebook experience."

Applications are listed in the left column of the main page - the most recently used appear at the top, and "more" can be clicked to retrieve a list of all applications you have subscribed to, regardless of when they were last used.

Types of Applications

There are a myriad of applications on FB. The author describes them in two broad categories: "games" and "other."

FB games merit special attention because of their popularity, but generally include single-player games you can play for your own amusement and multiplayer games that are played with others, either simultaneously or in turn. Some games blend the two, such that you can play alone or get periodic help from another player. An example of this is Farmville, where each player tends their farm, but can allow/ask other players to take actions for them.

The author lumps into the category of "other apps" a wide assortment of applications, such that there can be no description of the category other than "this is not a game." The author's description includes a handful of examples, but is ultimately not very enlightening.

Facebook Applications

Some of the core services that are considered to be part of FB itself are implemented as applications: events, photos, messages, and the like are listed as "apps" that cannot be removed.

Find Applications

FB provides a fill list of applications in a directory that is not easy to find unless you know the address (www.facebook.com/apps) - the most popular, newest, and ones your friends are using are featured. Otherwise, you can find them in the search application.

This directory lists not only applications that run on Facebook, but also apps that leverage FB data on third-party sites, can be loaded onto your computer or used on mobile. The directory also includes "prototype" applications that are under development but are not yet completed.

(E: I think the applications directory may have changed, as it's not currently as functional as the author implies - very little information is available about an app, just a sentence or two, until you allow it access)

Game applications have become so popular that FB has created a separate app to consolidate and coordinate them, though they can still be found in the directory of applications.

Applications that your friends use will likely show up on the news feed, and many encourage their users to promote the app to other people as a means of sharing information.

Applications Access Your Information

All applications require some level of access to your information on Facebook, which they will use to support their functionality. At the very least, an application will use your Facebook ID to identify you and consolidate your data.

Many of them will post messages to your wall indicating your use of them - adding a film to an application, your score or accomplishments in a game, etc. For some, this is part of the core functionality of the application (sharing information with friends), for others, it is a method of promotion (unless you presume your friends care about your high score on a game you play for your own amusement).

And distressingly many applications demand to have access to all information you have entered into your FB account, even information that has nothing at all to do with the functionality of the application. (EN: Some debate over whether application developers who request that data have ulterior motives, or if they simply say "give me everything" out of laziness, but the fact that you have to give access to your employment history, religious views, and contact information just to play a simple game or display a "ribbon" that indicates you support a cause is disconcerting. And no, this is not an exaggeration, but based on actual examples.)

The use of applications (other than those created by FB itself) is entirely optional. When you first indicate you wish to use an application, you will be taken to a screen that requests permission, discloses the kind of information the application wishes to access (EN: in general terms), and enables you to allow or disallow access.

If you disallow access, you are not permitted to use the application.

If you allow access, your information is shared with the developer and the application is added to your FB main page. You will then have access to an "edit" screen that lists the information you have shared and, in few cases, enables you to disallow future access to certain data (EN: However, most data is marked as "required" and cannot be denied without discontinuing use of the app, and for most data, you have already shared it and removing it will only withhold updates.)

Aside of sharing information with applications you decide to use, some applications require permission to access information about your friends. (EN: Again, this is vague, but there have been allegations that a friend who uses an app gives it permission to access information you have permitted them to see, including parts of your profile you have blocked from public access.) To prevent this from occurring, you must block individual applications by name.

(EN: There is an "apps, games, and Websites" security panel where you can block specific bits of information from applications used by friends, but some basic information such as name, gender, picture, etc. are always available unless you block all apps, which prevents you from using any applications at all.)

Once an application has been allowed access, you may launch it wherever its name appears - generally in the list of apps on your FB home page. Some apps have canvas pages that act as a launch point, others simply launch.

Spend (Real) Money

Third-party developers generally seek to earn money from their applications. In many instances, it is from marketing, either from in-game promotions or announcements or simply offering up your profile information to other firms who wish to market to you. In other instances, games seek to get money directly from their users by "selling" things for FB credits.

FB Credits are a form of virtual money that users purchase through a credit card (managed through the "payments" section of account settings, also from a games dashboard and linked from any game where credits can be spent). FB banks the deposit, and dispenses cash to the app developers when credits are spent in the application.

The present cost structure suggests a basis of about nine or ten cents: you get 50 for $5, which is the minimum), though less for buying in bulk (105 for $10 or 1,100 for $100). It is nto disclosed how much a credit is redeemed for by a developer, but it is reckoned to be somewhat less than the cost to the buyer, which enables FB to earn a profit on its virtual currency.

Oddly enough, some applications that use credits require you to convert them again to in-game currency, creating a separate and app-specific "bank" of virtual currency.

Common uses for FB credits are accessing premium functionality, buying adornments and badges to post to your profile, or getting helpful advantages for a game.

Remove or Delete Applications

The easiest way to remove an app from your FB account is to go to the applications or games dashboard and remove it. An app can also be removed by modifying your permissions settings to refuse it access to "required" information.

Some apps have their own method to be removed, but this is generally a dodge to give them an opportunity to convince you not to do so. Removing them by one of the methods above does not give them this opportunity, though FB uses a confirmation dialog to ensure the removal is intentional.

(EN: No comment from the author whether the app retains any personal information it previously collected. Likely FB cannot guarantee that your data will be removed from their systems, only that no data will be shared with them in future.)

Manage Applications

Aside of the administrative tools FB provides for managing applications, many applications have their own embedded methods for controlling settings within the app for how your information is used.

From a security perspective, your information is still being shared with the application, and these settings merely control how the information is used by the app itself.

From a practical perspective, the functions and methods by which they are accessed are idiosyncratic and no general instructions or descriptions would be reliable.