It's hardly news that Facebook has released an API to allow people to create custom 'applications' that will run on people's Facebook profiles. What is news is that I'm now looking at that API in more detail as there is a possibility that I will be creating just such an application.
While I'm not a particularly big fan of Facebook (although I am a member
because it does have it's useful moments), it would be pretty foolish to ignore it altogether, and the new Facebook Applications opens up a whole new world of possibilities for one, such as myself, who works extensively with web development and web technologies. It also opens up a whole new world of possibilities for marketers and those who could potentially abuse personal information.
For example, when someone adds your Application to their Facebook profile you are given their user id. The Facebook API allows you to look up a users profile based on their user id. I haven't yet looked to see exactly what information is provided, but I imagine that you can get your hands on pretty much all of it; certainly everything that's public. It also allows you to look up the user ids of all the friends of a particular user, as well as all the groups they're in. Considering the whole 'seven degrees of separation' phenomenon, it would not be difficult, assuming you could get just a few people to use your application, to get all the profile information on just about everyone on Facebook. You have access to their pictures as well.
Clearly this was all possible before, but now it's much much simpler to set up an automated system to do it for you. All you need to do is create even a vaguely popular application, and the data will basically just gather itself. Throw in a little data mining, and you've got an extremely powerful tool for gathering personal information about a whole lot of people.
We've already seen how poor judgement when it comes to what goes on your Facebook profile or your MySpace page can get you into trouble. It seems to me that Facebook Applications have the potential to bring a whole new world of hurt down on the users, especially now that it's no longer limited to just students.
Of course, as always, you, the user, have the power to control what information others have access to. If someone pulls some personal information about your off of your Facebook profile and uses it in a way you don't like, you really have only yourself to blame.
This is not to say that it's all doom and gloom, of course. The Facebook Applications also open the door to a whole host of exciting new possibilities. It will now be possible for Facebook to position themselves as the hub of your Web 2.0 experience with all your web services being pulled together into one, easy to use dashboard on your Facebook profile. I think there are going to be some very cool tools developed as Facebook Applications. Maybe I'll even create some of them myself.
Just remember, that you
are the one that's ultimately responsible for what information you make publicly available to the internet. If there's any information that you would want your employers, parents, &c to know, don't put it on your Facebook profile