Facebook scrabbles to control third-party applications

Filed Under: Social networks

The three greatest games the human race has ever produced are Chess, Scrabble and Alley Cat.

Scrabble has had something of a resurgence in popularity lately, with a growing number of people playing via a Facebook application called Scrabulous. Such has been its popularity that it has even been blamed in some companies for a dip in worker productivity (as if Facebook itself wasn't bad enough in that department..)

However, all that may change now as Facebook users who logged on to play Scrabulous this morning were greeted with the following message:

"Scrabulous is disabled for U.S. and Canadian users until further notice."

Since it was designed by Alfred Mosher Butts in the 1930s, the ownership of the rights to the Scrabble game have sometimes been a little tangled. In North America, Hasbro owns the rights to the game (and have sold the online gaming rights to Electronic Arts), but in the rest of the world Mattel are the Scrabble-overlords.

The problem is that Scrabulous wasn't written by Hasbro or Mattel, or even Electronic Arts, but by two brothers from Calcutta - Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla.

Last week Hasbro announced it was sueing the Agarwalla brothers for infringing on Scrabble's trademark, and called upon Facebook to remove access to the program. As it is, it appears Scrabulous has chosen to prevent North American players from accessing the application, although it is currently still available to Facebook users outside the United States and Canada.

While Facebook are desperately trying to keep out of the bunfight and remain neutral, Scrabble lovers around the world are watching on with interest to see what happens next.

Scrabulous isn't the only controversial application on Facebook
One of the thing that concerns me about Facebook, is the willingness with which its 80 million-odd active users appear to install third-party applications.

For instance, in January Sophos advised Facebook fans to exercise care over which applications they install following the discovery of a "Secret Crush" app that downloaded adware onto PCs.

Other third party Facebook applications appear to be given carte blanche by their users to access their personal information, but many Facebookers appear to be ignoring the big questions: "Do you trust them to look after your data securely? Do you trust them to be responsible with your most personal information?".

One problem is that Facebook users can't seem to discriminate between applications produced by the social-networking website itself. and those written by any Tom, Dick or Harry on the internet.

And it's not just the back bedroom developers of Facebook applications who could be putting your identity at risk either. At the end of last month Facebook suspended the popular "Top Friends" application. The application, created by Slide, was said to have allowed anyone to view profiles of any other Top Friends user on Facebook, exposing birth dates and other personal information. Regular readers of this blog will know that this isn't the first time Facebook users have been at risk of having their birthdays exposed to potential identity thieves.

Is it any wonder that more and more companies are blocking access to Facebook in the workplace?

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About the author

Graham Cluley is an award-winning security blogger, and veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.