Another day, another scandal involving social media websites. Today the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Facebook — along with MySpace, LiveJournal, Hi5, Xanga, Digg and Twitter — have been sending personal information about their users to advertisers without consent. Depending on how much information users opted to make public on their profile, advertising firms such as Google’s DoubleClick and Yahoo’s Right Media were able to obtain information as innocuous as the user’s ID to their hometown and occupation, all without the expressed consent of the account holder. Not surprisingly given what we’ve learned over the past few weeks, the WSJ said the worst offender is Facebook. Not only did it pass on information about the people that clicked on ads, but it also sent out information about the person whose profile the ad originated from. The WSJ had an assistant professor from the Harvard Business school evaluate code found on Facebook’s site and ultimately concluded that “if you are looking at your profile page and you click on an ad, you are telling that advertiser who you are.” Facebook was contacted about the matter, but claimed “we were recently made aware of one case where if a user takes a specific route on the site, advertisers may see that they clicked on their own profile and then clicked on an ad,” adding that “we fixed this case as soon as we heard about it.” For its role, MySpace said it is “currently implementing a methodology that will obfuscate the ‘FriendID’ in any URL that is passed along to advertisers.” Twitter simply stated that “this is just how the Internet and browsers work” when users click a link, and Digg denied any wrongdoing claiming it only passes on “information about the page that you are visiting, not you as a visitor” and that the initiating user’s ID is concealed. Both Google and Yahoo said they did not actively seek specific information about user IDs.
What do you think, folks? Does this confirm your worst fears about the ethics of the people running your favorite social media site, or is everything being blown way out of proportion?