The Root of It All

Conspiracy theorists have been raging since who knows when about this and that. When the first modern computer was invented, they were sufficiently supplied with more ammo to rave about to the world. One of the most discussed is the invasion of privacy. The renowned Bill Gates has even become the Darth Vader of computer-enthusiastic conspiracy theorists. Included in the masterminds is the government as well, but did you know that research has discovered evidence that your social networking sites are leaking out your most private and sensitive information?

Those Who Wanted to Know, Now Know

A study has been conducted at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts to demonstrate that mobile social networks are providing information about the user’s actual location to tracking sites and other services. Researchers have testified that all 20 sites that were used have leaked some sort of private data to third-party tracking sites.

A professor of computer science at WPI and a co-author of the study have stated that this issue raises some serious concerns, but more research is needed. The truth about the existence of third-party tracking sites gives social networking users a reason for concern because they need to have the option of changing the capacity of the social networking site to adjust its parameters on its distribution of information. Aside from being unsafe, this new discovery is a cause for concern on the subject of invasion of privacy.

The Culprits

During the study, the researchers have seen the practices of approximately thirteen mobile online social networking sites which include Flickr, Foursquare, Brightkite, Gowalla and Urbanspoon. Their study also included several of the traditional online social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Twitter because they also allow their sites to use mobile devices.

The researchers have seen evidence that all 20 sites have leaked some of the users’ private data into the third party tracking sites. According to the study, the data given out had the user’s highly unique identifiers for social networking purposes which allows the third party sites to connect the data they keep of the user’s browsing behavior using their profiles.

Mobile social networks can track a user’s geographic location by looking into the data on the mobile devices. Results have found that two of the social networks give direct information on the location of the user to the third party tracking site, while several used a third party map service to show the user’s location on the map.

Various half a dozen sites transmit unique identifiers to users’ mobile phones which enable third party sites to continue tracking the mobile user’s location even if the phone is making use of other applications. Although, the study did not say which site gave out the user’s location information. Using the data of the location you have acquired, with some application of very unique identifiers of certain devices as well as conventional leakage of other private information will make the protection of a user’s privacy obsolete.

Because of this, Facebook and other social networking sits are being pressured to protect its users’ information better and more securely. Facebook has even been criticized for creating tools that will make it much easier to give out information to third-party sites and also makes its privacy tools hard to use.