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Facebook, MySpace & Digg Sent User Data to Advertisers

Gordon Kelly


Facebook, MySpace & Digg Sent User Data to Advertisers

Did something particularly unpleasant just hit the fan?

Today the Wall Street Journal has revealed the hugely worrying news that major social networking sites including Facebook, MySpace, Digg, LiveJournal, Hi5 and Xanga have all been caught sending users' names and personal information to their advertisers. It comes despite fervent protestations on each site's privacy documentation that they would never do such a thing.

Real names, ages, hometowns and occupations are all amongst the data shared meaning supposedly anonymous statistics now have specific faces that can be assigned to them. Traditionally when a user has clicked on an ad on the Internet their identity is protected and typically would only supply contextual data about where it was that ad was located.

The sites involved have acknowledged these flaws, but most now claim fixes are in place.

"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," said a Facebook spokesman. "We fixed this case as soon as we heard about it."

A MySpace spokesperson also admitted it was "currently implementing a methodology that will obfuscate the 'FriendID' in any URL that is passed along to advertisers."

And what of the advertisers who have received this data? Among the most high profile are Google's DoubleClick and Yahoo's Right Media. "Google doesn't seek in any way to make any use of any user names or IDs that their URLs may contain," said a Google spokesman.

"We prohibit clients from sending personally identifiably information to us," added Yahoo privacy head Anne Toth. "We have told them. 'We don't want it. You shouldn't be sending it to us.' If it happens to be there, we are not looking for it."

So who believes who...?

Update: Digg has issued the following clarification with regards to the WSJ story:

Although Digg said it masks a user's name when they click on an ad and scrambles data before sharing with outside advertising companies, the site does pass along user names to ad companies when a user visits a profile page. "It's the information about the page that you are visiting, not you as a visitor," said Chas Edwards, Digg's chief revenue officer.

Links: Wall Street Journal

(Terrifying) Image courtesy of The New York Times


May 21, 2010, 6:46 pm

Well I certainly don't trust Facebook on this one as they have continually shown themselves to be completely rubbish when it comes to privacy.


May 21, 2010, 8:36 pm

Why is it that whenever Facebook changes their privacy user settings, it is always defaulted to the lowest levels, rather than the highest. And most users don't know enough to protect themselves. Hardly surprising one of the most searched for Google strings is "How do I delete my Facebook account" ... and mine is now gone.


May 21, 2010, 10:14 pm

To Gav66.

so you think, are you really sure you can trust them on this?


May 22, 2010, 12:17 am

Make sure you fill your profile with next to no personal information.

Then protect it anyway.

Not that hard.


May 22, 2010, 12:22 am

I deleted my facebook account ages ago. People reveal too much info on the net without thinking about the concequences.


May 22, 2010, 1:17 am


Not at all ... unfortunately!


May 22, 2010, 4:32 pm

@ Superman

You can't delete your Facebook account, you can only disable it.


May 23, 2010, 6:23 pm

To me, it seems @Disgrace has it right - *any* information you put on a site, almost expect it to be made public - so don't put anything on there that you wouldn't tell a stranger in the street. Of course, some people would happily tell everything to a stranger in the street... but those can't be helped.


May 24, 2010, 4:36 am

@Steve: actually deap within facebooks help pages is the fabled 'delete' button where within 14 days it will delete your profile, the reason people generally have to search for it is because it is damn near impossible to find it without having the direct link, even if you search 'delete my account' in facebooks help centre it still will not show up

but if you want the direct link follow this: http://www.facebook.com/help/c... while you are logged in

Hans Gruber

May 24, 2010, 6:21 am

I deactivated my Facebook a/c years ago and having just googled on how to delete it have myself scheduled for complete deletion (14 days and counting). Thanks.

The labyrinthine miasma of legalese that is Facebook's privacy policy makes me more than a just a little nauseous, if only in the time it takes to properly set privacy levels for each and every tiny little thing you'd think was relatively innocuous till finding out just what its ramifications were, ie who else is going to profile you and get to know your tastes just that little bit better. I have no beef against a site making money from my visit - it'd be a parasitical relationship if those providing internet content or services for personal consumption were not financially rewarded in some way but really, where does simple stats gathering start and where does (or should) it end? It's early days yet and sustainable economic models for media content are very much in their infancy I feel. Just what levels owners will go to profit from such sites has yet to be seen, the more desperate they are to get money back the more sleazy their methods will become maybe?

Much of my internet usage I am happy to share with those tracking me and targeting ads based on what I click on et cetera; makes perfect sense to me. Give me ads I'm interested in. Win win. Yes I use a static IP address, by all means profile me for the geeky nerd I may be but I wouldn't want them to a) know who my mates were b) what they look like c) what they're doing d) how much they earn/what their professions were, how many kids they've got, what products they use etc and this makes me far more uncomfortable than if they just had my rather uninspiring (and mostly inane) personal info to play with. Having just logged in to permanently delete my inactive Facebook profile it gives me the creeps to see all the pics of my close mates up there to think they could potentially be sharing a whole lot more about their private lives than they've bargained for.

Am I and others overreacting? I'm just someone who doesn't have a very exciting life and who prefers anonymity really, just for the sake of privacy though I really am not that bothered about having many personal details gleaned for marketing purposes that pertain to my internet habits provided they don't translate into spam or filter through to my life in the real world (junk mail/marketing pests etc) with the caveat I may not be all that in the know as to what I could potentially be giving away. I'm writing this last paragraph for the benefits of those who will later post and not properly read what I've written and therefore not really picked up on my generally nonplussed 'so what?' type attitude. I'm not a Luddite or complete social phobe. I know social networking sites and google etc might not actually be all that interested in poring over the finer details of my mate's wife's choice of garden furniture/whatnot so don't get me wrong, I just think it's probably best to wait a while to see what direction social networking type sites will go in once a better (sustainable) economic model has evolved. To think of the likes of Rupert Murdoch owning your personal details, it might just make sense in keeping a low profile for the time being - these people are not exactly paradigms of virtue are they?


May 24, 2010, 9:32 am


Wrong, you can delete it, rather than deactivate it.



May 24, 2010, 6:46 pm

See, that's the problem. As far as I was aware, you couldn't delete it. Under account options, they should make it obvious how to delete your account like MySpace do.

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