Social Networks May Be Sharing Your Info with Advertisers

Privacy loopholes continue to allow social networking sites to share users' info with advertisers.

Lately, social networking sites have been bending over backwards to assure their users that user privacy is of utmost importance--but it may have all been in vain, as the Wall Street Journal discovered Thursday that several social networking sites are sharing, with advertisers, information that can be used to identify individuals.

A report in the Wall Street Journal indicates that a number of social networking sites (including Facebook, MySpace, and Digg) may be sharing users' personal information with advertisers. Since the Journal started looking into this possible breach of privacy, both Facebook and MySpace have moved to make changes.

The practice is actually a somewhat defensible one--and most of the companies involved did try to defend it--in which the advertisers receive information on the last page viewed before the user clicked on their ad. This is common practice all over the web, and, in most cases, is no issue--advertisers receive information on the last page viewed, which cannot be traced back to the user. In the case of social networking sites, the information on the last page viewed often reveals user names or profile ID numbers that could potentially be used to look up the individuals.

Depending on what those individuals have made public, advertisers can then see anything from hometowns to real names.

The Journal interviewed some of the advertisers who received the data (including Google's DoubleClick and Yahoo's Right Media), who said they were unaware of the data and had not used it.

The real problem is, of course, that social networking sites have the ability to obscure user names and profile ID numbers from advertisers--but they simply haven't. While many of the sites only reveal information about the last page viewed (which may not be the user's profile and may therefore not reveal anything about that person), Facebook was a more serious offender as it sent information on both what profile was being viewed and who was doing the viewing.

Other sites, including MySpace, LiveJournal, Hi5, Xanga, Digg, and Twitter, revealed the user names and profiles being visited when the ad was clicked on.

Ironically, these companies may be breaching their own terms and conditions--in which they promise not to share personal data with third parties, without the user's explicit consent and knowledge.

But as PCWorld reported last year, sites have a "huge amount of wiggle room with that promise." More: Beware of Privacy-Policy Loopholes.

While Facebook has made changes to fix this privacy breach (it fixed some of the code Thursday morning), the other sites claim their user names are not personally identifiable, because they don't require that users reveal their real names. Not only that, but "this is just how the Internet and browsers work," according to a Twitter spokesperson.

According to Anne Toth, vice president of global policy and head of privacy at Yahoo, the advertisers don't want this personally identifying information. "If it happens to be there, we are not looking for it," she told the Journal.

Still, perhaps it's time to start thinking twice.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags privacysocial networkingpersonal data

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

Sarah Jacobsson

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

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.

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?