Social Media Privacy Loopholes: “Is This Real Life?”


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In 2009, people who proclaimed that social media had shifted information power from producer to consumer weren’t thinking Facebook in 2010. But social media providers and advertisers love the “consumer power” smokescreen. It keeps people’s minds away from the off-screen re-direction of the data. Advertisers and social media companies see plenty of ka-ching from a perfunctory “thumbs up” on Facebook. There’s even a cryptic IT term for it, digital exhaust. But if you’re mining data and performing analytics, you’re inhaling it by the lungful, and holding it in for the count, because it has intoxicating properties. Digital exhaust smells a lot like money.

Today’s Wall Street Journal reported “Facebook, MySpace and several other social-networking sites have been sending data to advertising companies that could be used to find consumers’ names and other personal details, despite promises they don’t share such information without consent.” (Sites Confront Privacy Loophole, May 21, 2010)

In case you’re suddenly a little uneasy about where the information power pendulum is swinging, maybe these vendor explanations from the Wall Street Journal article will assuage your concerns:

MySpace: The site is “currently implementing a methodology that will obfuscate the ‘FriendID’ in any URL that is passed along to advertisers,” according to a MySpace spokeswoman.

Twitter: “Passing along the Web address happens when people click a link from any web page. ‘This is just how the Internet and browsers work,'” according to a Twitter spokeswoman.

Digg:“Although Digg said it masks a user’s name when they click on an ad and scrambles data before sharing with outside advertising companies, the site does pass along user names to ad companies when a user visits a profile page. ‘It’s the information about the page that you are visiting, not you as a visitor,’ said Chas Edwards, Digg’s chief revenue officer.”

Google: “Google doesn’t seek in any way to make any use of any user names or ID’s that their URLs may contain,’ a Google spokesman said in a statement.”

Yahoo: “We prohibit clients from sending personally identifiably (sic) information to us. We have told them. ‘we don’t want it. You shouldn’t be sending it to us. If it happens to be there, we are not looking for it,'” according to Anne Toth, Yahoo’s head of privacy.

Yep. It’s real life, alright. And George Orwell would be proud!


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