Oh, No, Farmville Just Got $200 out of my Paypal Account!

facebookThis headline may sound a bit facetious, but it’s actually almost word for word from a friend of mine. He is currently fighting with Paypal to get the money back. Apparently it was used to buy “tokens” for some Facebook application or other.

Being the curmudgeon I am, I have never played a game or loaded an app on Facebook. Presumably, I’m there to keep up with friends and family, share some of my writing via links to other web pages, and to complain about day to day life. I get regular requests from friends and family to join some game or other, or to participate in their birthday calendar, or whatever. One thing and one thing alone has kept me from doing any of those things; it is that little warning you get right on your computer screen that tells you that if you allow the app or game to load on your account, you will have given the app or game permission to access your information and even your friends’ information on Facebook. I am just paranoid enough not to say “allow,” and quickly back out of whatever it was I just clicked on.

My friends, however, don’t have the same alarm bells ringing in their heads, and allow all sorts of things to get their information. Polls, applications, games, you name it, anything you “allow” by clicking through, have access to all sorts of information that you may not think should be that easily available. But if you’ve ever linked your paypal account to your facebook account so that you can play a game, you’ve just made an allowance for that game to have access to that information. So my friend, by agreeing to “allow” a game access to his information, is out $200 in tokens for a game he has not played in months. Good going.

The fact is, you have very little recourse to recover lost monies for something you agreed to in the first place. Many think, “it’s on facebook, it must be okay. Facebook would never hurt me.” Many of the apps, games, and polls on Facebook are run by third parties, and not by Facebook itself. Facebook, when pressured, will remove offensive or dangerous apps, games, and polls, but it is not checking all of those up front to be sure they are legitimate in the first place. It is definitely a “buyer beware” situation.

And why write about this on a website presumably catering to techs who should know better? Because if we’re not participating in these things, we certainly know family members and friends who are. And it is in our best interests (and theirs) to be sure they are being safe out there.

Just say no to Facebook apps.

[Article inspired by Facebook’s fantasy games cost more than time by Helen A.S. Popkin over on MSNBC.com.]