The recent Facebook debacle that involved a hacker obtaining and selling the log-in information of thousands of users has placed social network security standards in the spotlight. As more Americans become cognizant of identity theft risks, more websites are being urged to provide tighter security systems to protect their users' privacy.
However, social networks may be providing advertising companies with user information that could increase their risk of falling victim to identity theft, the Atlantic Monthly reports. When social network users click on advertisements through their site, whether it be Facebook, MySpace or Twitter, the advertiser is able to see the "referrer" website. Most businesses use referrer websites as a way to find out where customer traffic is coming from, the Atlantic said. For example, when a consumer performs a search through Google, each site they click on will know which website they came from because Google includes a search phrase in their URL, according to the Atlantic.
With social networking sites, the problem is worse because many include identifying information, such as the user's name or ID in the actual URL. This allows advertisers the opportunity to "scrub" the member's profile, which may contain identifying information such as their name, date of birth, address, and current city, the magazine reports. While seemingly harmless, these pieces of information can and have been used in the past to commit identity theft.
Advertisers told the magazine that they did not know they were receiving this information and do not plan to use it. Some social networking sites view the problem as a natural risk one takes when using the internet.
"This is just how the internet and browsers work," one Twitter spokesperson told the Atlantic.
Social networking sites, at one point marketed to college students and younger adults, are now open to user's of all ages and has expanded to include members globally. While they are a good way to keep in touch with friends and network, they can jeopardize a user's personal information if the user does not safeguard their account. Recently, many criminals are utilizing social networking sites to obtain personal information by posing as a friend or updating viruses masked as messages, videos or links.
The Federal Trade Commission urges users to refrain from including identifying information that could possibly jeopardize their identity. The FCC also discourages members from accepting friend requests from strangers who may have ulterior motives.