Protecting your information does not require you be totally paranoid. However, it does help if you are willing to question a good thing when it just seems to be too good to be true.

One of the times you should ask is when it involves the magic word “free”.

Much of the appeal of Facebook lies in its free games and applications. In themselves, many seem quite harmless and provide a bit of good entertainment. However, there are serious implications involved when you play or use them.

Many of these are used for direct marketing and can be used to spam your friends. Others are outright scams used to obtain your personal information for identity theft purposes.

The process starts when someone invites you to use an application or join in an online game. You’ve probably received at least one of these, such as Farmville, Scrabble, or Bejeweled Blitz.

Accepting the invitation brings up a page asking you for permission to do several things. This may ask for access to your friends’ list, name, birthdate and the right to e-mail you or to post on your behalf.

You are given a choice of allowing or not allowing this.

Here’s where it is really important to read the fine print. Ask yourself two questions: What am I allowing people to access? To whom am I giving this access?

Consider the first question. Do you really want to allow people to see your list of friends and their contact information? Also, do you actually want the application or game to be posting on your Facebook page, or contacting your friends without your knowledge?

You don’t have to feel badly about not joining the game, even though a good friend has invited you. Chances are that friend didn’t send you the invitation in the first place.

It’s a good bet that the invitation was actually sent as spam by the application when that friend joined the game, giving all of their friends’ contact information and permission to send you messages on their behalf.

The second question is of a much darker nature.

Facebook does not make any effort to check the legitimacy of application developers. If they did, they would be legally responsible for anything that happened from you using it.

To protect against liability, Facebook simply opened the doors to anyone who wants to add an application or game. Neither you nor they have any idea who is receiving the information and for what purpose they require it.

We’ve looked at the importance of protecting the information in your Facebook profile in the past. After restricting who can see your personal information, you should put a bit of consideration into keeping that control.

Choosing whether or not to participate does take a little thought and a little research. Try Googling the name of the game or app, along with the words “review” or “scam”, and see what results come up.

Is there a large number of people who seem content with using it, or have people come to some sort of grief from allowing it? The final decision is always yours and you should try to make it based on the old adage “forewarned is forearmed”.

The underlying thing to remember is that there is really nothing free on the internet.

“Free” games and apps exist mainly to market products to you and your friends. How you choose to respond to the invitation should be a decision based on knowledge and some thought for what may result. It is often better to say no automatically than to regret it later.

Doug Rutherford teaches computer networking and security for Yukon College and three post-secondary educational institutions in British Columbia.