Research Studies on Social Networking Sites say they Leak Your Private Information, which Could Cause Trouble at Work

September 10, 2009

Research studies on social networking sites say that they leak private information to third parties for marketing purposes, so they can profile you, which could be inaccurate.

The study, which was co-authored by Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), states that your browsing habits are linked to you with a unique identifier from these social networking sites.

WPI points out that “cookies” are placed on your computer, so the company can track your browsing habits and serve ads that meet your internet-browsing history. For example, if you visit cooking sites for recipes, they would serve ads about the same thing or similar items like pots and pans. What is the downside of this? What if you are at work and you go to night school and you’re doing research on the sexual history of women (for women’s history class, of course) and condom ads start popping up on your work computer. Worse still? You share a computer at work. This could even happen at the school’s computer in the lab.

Certainly, your browsing habits would be misleading under the aforementioned circumstances. Wills states that people should be careful about what they post on social networking web sites and use the protections that these sites offer you.

When you sign up with a social networking site, you are assigned a unique identifier,” says Craig Wills, professor of computer science at WPI, who conducted the study with an industry colleague. “This is a string of numbers or characters that points to your profile. We found that when social networking sites pass information to tracking sites about your activities, they often include this unique identifier. So now a tracking site not only has a profile of your Web browsing activities, it can link that profile to the personal information you post on the social networking site. Now your browsing profile is not just of somebody, it is of you.”

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