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Facebook dumps Secret Crush application over spyware claim

After a security firm reports that a popular Facebook third-party app contains a spyware download, the social network removes it--1.5 million installs later.

Update at 12:10 p.m. PST: Comment from Zango has been added.

Good riddance: Facebook has banned the "Secret Crush" application due to reports of its affiliation with a notorious spyware manufacturer.

The social-networking site confirmed the breakup on Monday: "Facebook is committed to user safety and security and, to that end, its Terms of Service for developers explicitly state that applications should not use adware and spyware," a statement from the company read. "We have contacted the developers and have disabled the Secret Crush application for violating Facebook Platform Terms of Service."

Lonely Facebook users eager to find which of their friends had the hots for them were served up with the nasty news last week. According to a report from security firm Fortinet, invitations luring members with the message "One of your friends might have a crush on you!" contained a link to software from Zango, a company whose name has become almost synonymous with adware. Upon installing the application, users were informed that they needed to "invite" at least five more friends to Secret Crush before going on, and then were invited to download a "Crush Calculator" application that contained Zango software.

Tragically, duped Facebook members never did get to learn which people on their friends list had crushes on them.

Zango has publicly denied involvement with Secret Crush, publishing a blog post dismissing Fortinet's claims and saying that Secret Crush hadn't disappeared--it had just changed its name to "My Admirer."

"In the case of the Zango ad seen by Fortinet, if clicked it would have taken a consumer to Zango's standard plain-language notice and consent page where consumers could choose to install Zango software and access (without subscription) a Zango Astrology application--or choose not to install the software," the Zango blog post read. "Although we did not purchase this ad directly, it was placed by one of our advertising partners within the Facebook system, which appears to be a completely legitimate practice."

Spyware and adware claims are nothing new in the social-networking world; Facebook's chief rival, the News Corp.-owned, has had issues with adware masked as YouTube videos, for example. The recent news nevertheless raises the question of how quickly Facebook, or any other site that accepts third-party developer content, should be expected to take action in this kind of situation. AllFacebook reported that 1.5 million users had installed Secret Crush before it was taken down; this kind of situation will certainly add to the debate over how attentive a company built on user- and developer-generated content needs to be.

In its statement concerning the Secret Crush takedown, Facebook responded pre-emptively to potential criticism by stressing that members should be aware that they are dealing with third-party content on the Facebook Platform. "Users should employ the same precautions while downloading software from Facebook applications that they use when downloading software on their desktop," the company warned.