NEWS

Most used words App on Facebook is (still) a privacy nightmare

Over the last few days, you may have heard a lot about a Facebook app that creates a cloud out of your most used words. That is because the app, which was created by Korean firm Vonvon, has been receiving a lot of attention due to the vast amount of private data that it asks permission to access.

word cloud vonvon

In order to use the app, called simply what are your most used words on Facebook, Vonvon asks Facebook users to grant access to their most private information including name, age, sex, location, IP address, all timeline posts, all friends, education, hometown and current city as well as ‘Likes’. It even asks for access to know what device and browser you use. After having accepted to give away all this data, Facebook users are presented with a cloud created solely out of their most used words – a seemingly trivial result for such an enormous data giveaway.

Strikingly, as of now over 17 million people have used Vonvon’s app to discover their most used words. What most of those people probably did not realise (as they hurriedly clicked through the permissions), is that the company’s privacy policy explicitly states that Vonvon reserves the right to sell that information on to third parties.

So what is the problem? Any time that you allow a company to access your Likes and other personal details, you are opening yourself up to that company and giving it a treasure trove of information about yourself. Vonvon’s privacy statement states that,

‘You acknowledge and agree that we may continue to use any non-personally-identifying information in accordance with this Privacy Policy (e.g., for the purpose of analysis, statistics and the like) also after the termination of your membership to this website and\or use of our services, for any reason whatsoever.’

That means that by clicking accept and logging into the most used words app, you are allowing Vonvon not only to use your private data now but long into the future – even if you close down your Facebook account.

Vonvon’s chief executive and founder Jonghwa Kim has come forward to dispel what he claims to be the myth surrounding the way that his company uses Facebook users’ personal information,

‘There are some false rumors that we are trying to capture people’s information so we can sell it to third parties. We don’t really get any meaningful information when people use our apps. And when they share it on their walls, it doesn’t have much information about them.’

If that is true, however, then why does Vonvon ask for so much in the first place? Does Jonghwa’s company really need to know your likes and IP address to tell you what your most used words are in a cute cloud graphic? The short answer is no. In fact, Jonghwa’s public response to ongoing privacy concerns about Vonvon appears to be nothing short of smoke and mirrors.

Jonghwa Kim is an experienced business person, and no stranger to making money. Vonvon is his third startup. His first two startups Wingbus and Dailypick already made him millions of dollars and with Vonvon specifically dealing with creating viral content for social media (successfully) it is not surprising that he is aware of the power of public opinion. With that in mind, it is hardly a surprise that faced with a public relations nightmare he has decided to come forward with a little reassurance to calm the panic down, but can it be trusted?

The fact is that there is already evidence on the table that stands in stark contrast to what Jonghwa would have you believe. Facebook ‘Likes’ alone have been proven to give Facebook a treasure trove of information about its users. A tool created by Cambridge University in the UK can successfully predict a person’s personality traits using information gained solely from Facebook.

In fact, the app created by The University of Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre can figure out your religious and political views, intelligence and even happiness levels from your Facebook data. So tell me this, if Cambridge’s apply magic sauce tool can figure out so much about us from our likes, then why does Vonvon’s founder claim that ‘we don’t really get any meaningful information when people use our apps’?

It just doesn’t add up, especially when you consider that Vonvon asks for vastly more information than Cambridge University does. Consider this, whereas Cambridge University promises only to use your likes and to delete all the information it has collected about you directly after you exit the app – Vonvon promises the opposite – to keep your data forever and to use it as and when it pleases, even if you close your Facebook account.

Despite Vonvon representatives’ loud protestations that the firm’s reputation is being unfairly and mistakenly tarnished with the privacy-invading label, it is, in fact, the company’s own privacy policy that is bringing people to that conclusion. Let there be no doubt that the company’s privacy statement does indeed have the potential to be a privacy nightmare and it is not just the most used words app that you need to worry about. A casual search for Vonvon on Google brings up a number of its apps, all of which make Facebook users accept the firm’s privacy agreement and acknowledge the company’s right to use their private data.

vonvon apps2

Vonvon representatives continue to deny that they ever intend to make money from user data. Let’s not forget however that it is the firm’s prerogative to protect its reputation. The fact remains that Vonvon does ask permission to collect your personal data from Facebook, and because its privacy statement allows it to use that data at any point – it does not even have to sell that data to a third party now – for it to do so in the future. You have been warned.

 


Ray Walsh I am a freelance journalist and blogger from England. I am highly interested in politics and in particular the subject of IR and I am an advocate for freedom of speech, equality and personal privacy. On a more personal level I like to stay active, love snowboarding, swimming and cycling, enjoy seafood and love to listen to trap music.

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