Police force's Facebook app raises privacy concerns

Police force's Facebook app raises privacy concerns

Summary: Greater Manchester Police has become the first UK police force to establish a presence on Facebook, but critics have warned of the privacy implications

TOPICS: Security

Last week, Greater Manchester Police became the first UK police force to establish a presence on Facebook. According to one privacy advocate, it is a move that raises significant privacy issues.

Greater Manchester Police established an application called GMP Updates on Facebook, providing users with crime news, appeals and missing-persons stories.

Individual stories can be shared with a user's contacts and users can add comments to the feed. The application also links users to an external website where they can anonymously submit information on crimes or view YouTube videos related to ongoing investigations.

Greater Manchester Police has estimated that seven million Facebook users reside in the UK. Within a day of launch, 750 people had added the application, the police force said.

"Greater Manchester Police is proud to be the first force in the country to use this new technology, and it demonstrates our commitment to exploring all avenues available to us to help fight and detect crime," said assistant chief constable Rob Taylor, in a statement.

Greater Manchester Police pitched the tool as a way of helping raise public awareness about crimes, and encouraging users to submit relevant information. However, users who add the application to their Facebook profile may be sharing more information about themselves with the police than they realise, according to Guilherme Roschke, a fellow at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

In a research note, Roschke pointed out that Facebook applications have access to far more information than ordinary users do.

According to Facebook's "platform application terms of use", when a user adds an application, that application gets access to a long list of different types of "Facebook site information", which could include political views, relationship interests, copies of photos in Facebook photo albums, a list of user IDs mapped to Facebook contacts, a social timeline, name, birthday, gender, current location and other information.

Read this


Q&A: Facebook and the price of user privacy

Aaron Greenspan warns that Facebook is sacrificing user privacy on the altar of hyper growth

Read more

Applications can access this data even if it's been marked as not viewable via Facebook networks such as those relating to geographic area or education, Roschke noted. Photos are viewable by applications even if users have restricted which of their contacts can see the photos.

"Law enforcement use of applications will significantly expand the reach of what law enforcement can see, and also provides a more surreptitious viewing ability," Roschke wrote.

He pointed out that applications such as the GMP Updates can, by default, see what the user sees on Facebook, including information about contacts. Contacts can opt out of this sharing but, by default, it includes information such as education history, work history, profile status, photos, groups and relationship status.

"It's not enough to carefully tune your privacy vis-a-vis other Facebook users. You also have to avoid adding in applications like the GMP Updates," Roschke wrote.

Topic: Security

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Police on facebook?

    Not sure this is one of the most effective way to spend tax payer's money!
    By adding the application you give them access to your personal details, photo albums, etc.. the though of police browsing through your album on facebook, any one?
    I imagine most people would want to help the police in fighting crime, but are you willing to share your personal space in the process?
  • I'm puzzled

    I'm not a Facebook user but if adding an application to Facebook can open up access to so much person and private information, who is entitled to add an application to Facebook and indeed who decides that entitlement?

    Seems very nasty to me! I wonder how many young Facebook users understand this and it's potential implications.
    The Former Moley
  • facebook lockdown

    It s true, any one can right an app for facebook, I constantly talk of these dangers, I do have a profile, they insist on a date of birth, though you dont have to view it publicly, anyway it doesnt have to be the right date of birth, and I dont add any apps on my page, I just use my profile to post links, display photos, post video from youtube and stay linked to certain people.
    roger andre
  • Police And The Internet

    I wonder how you can say that it is an invasion of privacy for the police to look at a Face Book, Myspace or Friends Reunited page.

    1. i feel sure that they would only be interested in criminals or ex offenders as they dont have time to look at every ones pages, and
    2. the information that you submit to these sites is there for all to see, if you dont agree with that statement then close your accounts.

    let them do their job which is keeping YOU safe.
  • good intentions

    That's how it always starts, the road to hell is paved with good intentions just ask tony bliar.

  • re: good intentions

    I understand your point of view and I suppose if you look at what civil liberties have changed over the years i.e.when I was 20 being gay/lesbian, was frowned upon and now it is openly Normal. Abortion, what ever your view, which was frowned upon 30 years ago, is now Normal and drugs which were not even talked about until the 80's and 90's (a benefit of growing up in a country town,) are now, what seems to be, Normal for about 25% of the population of britain, because of re-catagorisation
    Television has changed over the years, we now have more sex on the television then there was all week in our local cinema in the 1970's

    I hate to think what comes next completely legalised drugs as it's too difficult to police, no censorship as its against your civil liberies to not let you see what ever you want to see

    as they say "If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear"
    If The world decends in to chaos what the hell good are civil liberties
  • Well,

    I'm sure the law over rules Facebooks POLICIEs
    I think it's un-fortunate for facebook, not so no much the people.
  • hi anthony2k

    there is a thin line between good and evil as they say and differing opinions as to the definition of good and evil.
    someone using privacy to commit a crime is evil.
    someone using privacy to prevent crime is of course good.
    a discussion on the semantics is good to clarify our minds as to good and evil though i feel that people with out anything to hide would feel that this could be a good thing and of course the latter for criminals.
    I'm sure we could agree that it's better to prevent crime than to allow victims to be created.