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What’s the privacy tradeoff for playing Words With Friends?

Apps and Privacy

Words With Friends Icon An ongoing game or two of Words with Friends, an app on my Android phone, has been a simple and guilty pleasure that I’ve enjoyed regularly. After an annoying upgrade option kept popping up on my screen, I read the privacy policy to learn exactly what I’d be giving up in exchange for the improved version of the game. It was not pretty!

I’m going to go into details about the permissions given to this app by default, however, please don’t ignore this article if you don’t play Words With Friends. Keep in mind that most apps take similar liberties with our digital data and before you use any app at all, please take time to explore the privacy settings and permissions. (In fact, here’s a previous article regarding general app dangers – How Apps Sneakily Steal Your Privacy) This article is geared more to Facebook apps but my point is to start to look at settings of every app you use on every device – especially your smartphones!

Back to Words With Friends: The screenshot below shows the general categories this app gains access to once installed. Pretty extensive, right? When I get something for free, I expect that they’ll be expecting a lot in return. I use a paid version of this app but I was wrong to assume they wouldn’t be using my data anyway. Let’s explore further …


Wow! New Words With Friends “needs access to” a lot of personal data. Opening all the drop down menus provided additional shocking details about the information this app would be extracting from my mobile device.



Device & app history:

I don’t want Words With Friends creator, Zynga, to know what other apps I use. I certainly don’t want them to have access to my browsing history and my bookmarks.


Why would I want Zynga to have access to my personal and private calendar and contact information in my phone? Not only is that not their business, it’s a huge invasion of privacy to my contacts.


I understand how this gives general demographic information for marketing purposes however, I don’t want to share this either.


I don’t mind connecting a photo to my online Words With Friend’s profile but I can’t think of any good reason that I’d want to give Zynga access to my other images, videos, audio or my device’s external storage. Can you?



Wi-Fi connection information:

Call me crazy but why would I want to share the name of my connected Wi-Fi devices? I tend to give my devices and my wi-fi obscure names that are meaningful to me. I don’t want to share that information with Zynga, other apps, strangers or potential cyber criminals!

Device ID & call information:

I don’t completely understand this item but if all I’m doing is playing a quick online board game, why would I want to share all this other information? My answer is I don’t want to.


Again, I don’t fully understand what these read and write permissions mean but nonetheless, with the exception of keeping track of what I do within each Words With Friends match, I see no good reason to allow Zynga to read or write anything beyond that.

Words With Friends BoardAfter reading all of these permissions, I went back to my current version of Words With Friends privacy settings with the hope that I hadn’t already inadvertently given Zynga access to all of my private information. No such luck! The old version requires less access, but nonetheless, it had assumed many of these similar permissions when I didn’t take time to look over the permissions when I first installed the app. Or to be more correct, when I gave it access to this information simply by using the app.

Today, I invested a significant amount of time looking for ways to limit Zynga’s access to my data via privacy settings on my phone and within the app as well. I also researched this on the Zynga site using my computer. The few options/choices I located were insignificant and limited. My conclusion was that by using the app, I had no choice but to give away my privacy rights by default. The only way I saw around it was to uninstall the app and contact Zynga to stop using my information per their online privacy policy. (privacy@zynga.com)

I’m sad that my Words With Friends games appear to be over unless someone finds a way around all of the associated privacy invasion. If you do, please let me know because I’m going to miss the challenge of playing Words With Friends with my son and my competitive neighbor!

Until next time,… Stay Cyber Safe.

To those of you in the United States who celebrate this week’s holiday ..

Happy Thanksgiving



Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families!

3 replies
  1. Kim H
    Kim H says:

    Wow – that is so crazy! Thanks for providing such useful information. I will have to give this a lot of thought as I like my privacy a lot, I love Words with Friends and I do not always take the time to read the privacy notice (although I did not download the new version of the app because I guess I did see some of the “needs” and thought it was asking for way too much).

  2. Valerie
    Valerie says:

    Thanks for the info re: Words with Friends, I’m completely addicted and now will actually start reading books again. You always have useful and interesting items from which to learn, thanks for that

    • Hayley Kaplan
      Hayley Kaplan says:

      You’re welcome. We may have to go back to basics. I love a good board game of Scrabble – and when we play with a friend in person, we know if our opponents are making too much use of a dictionary or not and we have the ability to challenge words we don’t recognize. When I play Words with Friends, I occasionally try different combinations of words until I find one that works. I believe that’s a form of cheating, isn’t it? Can’t do that with Scrabble without an opponent knowing about it. Yay for traditional board games!


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