April 25, 2012 at 11:01 AM ET
Facebook says it's trying to improve its privacy policies, and it even has invited more than 2,000 of its critics to offer suggestions. One sticking point is that your personal data still can be accessed by your friends' Facebook apps even if you've set that data to be private.
Birthday apps are a prime example, said David Jacobs of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who represents consumers' interests before government bodies.
Maybe you don't even use any of the gaming, quiz or other apps on Facebook, but if your friends do, your personal info could be released into the sea of Facebook users. And it's not just birthdays, according to a recent Wall Street Journal exposé. For instance, Skype also collects photos of subscribers and their friends.
You may feel comfortable with your friends knowing your birthday (setting your privacy controls to "friends only") but less comfortable getting "Happy Birthday" messages from strangers. How does that happen? Your data is shared through your friends' apps to their friends, and so on.
Jacobs said Facebook recently came up with a fix in the “Apps and Websites” settings that seems to adequately separate friend from app access.
Here's how to stop apps from sharing your personal information:
1. Go to your privacy settings page on Facebook.
2. Select "Edit settings" beside "Apps and Websites."
3. Click "Edit settings" next to "How people bring your info to apps they use."
4. Uncheck any items that you don't want apps to use, such as birthday, photos or if you're online.
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