Skeptical shopper: The risks of social networking games

These games may seem like a fun time, but players are susceptible to unwanted recurring charges and security threats

If you have a Facebook account, you're probably familiar with Zynga games like Farmville, Mafia Wars, and Vampires Live. Your live feed may be clogged with updates from friends participating in these games, or you're trying to make the workday go faster by playing them yourself. They seem harmless enough--but TechCrunch.com has unearthed a video of Zynga CEO Mark Pincus saying the company "did every horrible thing in the book" to make money off of players. What "horrible" things are players susceptible to?

In this video (warning, contains some foul language), Pincus goes on to say that the company offered players extra chips in an online poker game if they installed a toolbar that was impossible to remove. Such revenue-generating tactics are unfortunately not all that uncommon in the social network gaming world, and Zynga certainly isn't the only offender.

Progress within these games depends on how much you have in your virtual bank. You can earn some money based on your activity within the game, but in my brief experience with Farmville, in-game earnings weren't enough to keep things interesting. To accumulate significant amounts of currency, players can either purchase some with their credit card or sign up for an account with a third-party service.

Watch out for Surveys

You might, for example, earn some quick Farmville cash by answering a brief survey. Sounds a lot better than using your credit card, right? But you're probably safer breaking out your wallet.

TechCruch cites one instance in which players could win currency if they filled out such a survey. At the end of the survey, they would be asked to provide their phone number so that they can receive a PIN via text to get the results. Once they've entered that PIN into the site, they're subscribed to a horoscope service for $9.99 per month--something they won't know unless they diligently read all the fine print. Ouch. The victims could immediately try to cancel the subscription, of course, but they could still end up being charged.

Security--and Social--Risks

Unwanted charges aren't the only thing players are susceptible to: Social networking games make you a target for viruses and hackers as well. Zynga's community forums have a couple of threads in which moderators warn users against accepting any gifts or invitations within a certain game on Facebook. (They didn't specify exactly what would happen if users accepted these buggy gifts or requests.) I also found a few threads where users claimed that that a bug in the game wiped out all of their game progress. That can be pretty devastating for someone who has dedicated lots of time and money to it.

If you absolutely can't break your Farmville habit or can't resist the urge to try out these games, at least stick with earning that virtual money without taking out your credit card or signing up for services.

Many of the users I polled said that their only source of income in these games comes from recruiting friends to play or from posting updates to all of their friends about their progress. You might lose a few real-life friends by spamming them this way, but at least you won't be putting yourself at risk of subscriptions you probably don't want. To keep your friendships intact, I recommend that you create a separate Facebook account strictly for gaming and befriending other players.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags security threatssocial networking

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ginny Mies

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?