Tsk, tsk. Did we honestly not see this coming? The Wall Street Journal has uncovered proof that both sites – along with several other popular social networking venues – have been giving away a hell of a lot of information about you to both Yahoo and Google… despite promising that they do not. Both Google’s DoubleClick and Yahoo’s Right Media were identified as being recipients of these little goldmines of information in the form of usernames. That information can lead advertisers to find out your location, your real name, your age and even your occupation. Both companies, of course, deny knowing about (or using) this “extra” information.
All around the Internet, it’s normal for advertisers to receive the address of a page where a user clicked on an ad. However, they normally learn nothing more about the user than an unintelligible string of letters and numbers that are non-traceable. With social networking sites, those addresses themselves usually include the usernames which can direct advertisers right to a profile page chock full of personal information. Along with Facebook and MySpace, there were several other sites found to be participating in this lovely practice: LiveJournal, Hi5, Xanga and Digg are also sending the username or ID number of the page being visited. Even Twitter was found to pass web addresses with usernames of a profile being visited on their site. For most of these sites, the data identified the profile being viewed, but didn’t always show the person who clicked the ad or link. Facebook went further than the others, as usual: in most cases, they signaled which username was doing the clicking along with the name of the person or page being viewed.
The big question of the day is whether or not these sites knew that this type of information was being sent. They, undoubtedly, are going to deny that they had any clue at all. If that is true, though, then I say they need better developers. Any code monkey worth having would have known how to interpret the code they had written, and what it was doing at any given moment.