Just how much personal information are you releasing when you use Facebook? Facebook may be giving third-party advertisers your personal information without you realising.
AVG's Chief Research Officer, Roger Thompson, wrote a first-hand account of how privacy should not be taken lightly. He received a shock when he found that CNN’s Web site knew who his friends were.
According to one of Thompson's colleagues, Jas Dhaliwal, this can be attributed to the introduction of a 'social plug-in' tool that is used by more than 100,000 Web sites. Introduced only a few weeks ago, this plug-in shows you which of your friends click 'like' on a particular Web page. If none of your Facebook friends are clicking the 'like' button, then Facebook aggregates the popular stories that are 'liked' on the site as a whole.
These social plug-ins are a more developed version of Facebook Connect. Connect was designed to let you use your Facebook account to sign onto other sites.
"At the recent F8 conference, Facebook announced that they were going to remove the connect button. So, if you've logged in once, it will remember your login. The social plugin caches that login data and uses a custom API to show which of your friends (i.e. your social graph) are visiting the same site," wrote Dhaliwal.
"Facebook has done a very, very bad job at explaining this. For most people, when they see CNN's Facebook plug-in they are surprised, because as a user, you haven't given CNN or Facebook explicit permission to connect to your social graph/friends list."
Dhaliwal wrote that the most effective way of combating this problem would be to log out of Facebook once you have finished using it. Closing the browser window or tab does not mean you are logged out of Facebook automatically.
Lloyd Borrett, Marketing Manager at AVG Australia and New Zealand, suggests that users should create a number of groups for their Facebook friends and specifically divide them into friends, family and work. "This will allow you to assign a number of different sharing settings with each group. Therefore, only certain people see the data that you wish to share," he said.
AVG stresses that Facebook users should investigate the Facebook privacy page for themselves. "Our advice is to take a serious peek into your privacy settings and make sure you are happy with what you are or aren't sharing," said Borrett. "And don't forget you need to log out of Facebook once you finish reading posts. You just don't know what information could be leaking."