9/5/2005

Social Bookmarking A Threat To Privacy

Filed under: — By Aviran Mordo @ 6:56 am

Social bookmarking websites such as Digg.com and del.icio.us are growing rapidly in popularity and with it also the privacy concern of these sites users.

Social bookmarking sites are sites in which users submit links to pages they found around the web, and other users are voting in one way or another for the popularity of that link. The more votes a link gets the more popular and interesting the page is.

Better than spyware:
One of the most prominent reasons for the existence of spyware is the ability to spy on user surfing habits and to compile a user profile. Using this profile advertisers can display ads that are in close relevance to the user鈥檚 interests.

In the case of social bookmarking web sites, the users themselves unknowingly creating their own profile. By voting for a site or news item, the users saying 鈥淭his is of interest to me鈥?. Having enough votes one can build a user profile, knowing what is interesting for that user.

The voting history (diggs) is already publicly available in most sites. Going to any user profile, you can see all the stories that user voted for. From there you can assume what interests that user.

Some of these sites have privacy policy noting they will not sell private information, but on others there is no privacy policy and they are free to do whatever they want with this valuable information.

Large search engines and big portals that can collect this kind of personal information are under heavy public scrutiny regarding the safe guard of this kind of data, but social bookmarking sites stayed under the radar.

Collecting this valuable information, which by the way can be associated with the user’s IP address, is done automatically by the servers. Having access to this kind of information is very useful to advertisers, which can run targeted ads according to the user’s profile. If the sites owners will not sell this info I will not be surprised if some black hat hackers will try to obtain and sell this information to the highest bidder. Thus social bookmarks sites have to to be very careful about securing their database and also to provide a clear privacy policy in order for the users to know what information is being collected and sold to third parties.

So until you see a clear privacy policy, stating that the site will not sell your personal data, and the security measures the site employs, be very careful of what you digg. One more advice: If you value your privacy, use an anonymous proxy when using these sites, so you can not be associated with an IP address.

 

One Response to “Social Bookmarking A Threat To Privacy”

  1. Alex Bosworth Says:

    Isn’t privacy just fundamentally at odds with open/public social software?

    The difference might be that you should probably be aware that you are posting things socially and publicly on del.icio.us and digg, whereas spyware often goes altogether un-noticed and captures things you might not want published.

    The fact that you are identifiable by your IP is a good point though. Services should put in their privacy policy an agreement not to divulge information about your IP, because at least then you can create an anonymous username if you don’t want to be associated with what you do on the web.

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