A recent news report in the Wall Street Journal shows that both Facebook and MySpace pass along information to advertisers that can be tracked back to individual profiles. This is because either the MySpace user's profile name or Facebook user ID is included in the web address, or URL, of the page that the user is viewing. When users click on ads, the advertiser can tell what page the user came from, thus revealing the profile or user ID of the individual.
MySpace and Facebook have been facing a lot of news media attacks over privacy concerns lately, with the argument that both companies are sacrificing privacy for a more open model of information sharing. This argument gains ground when it appears that both MySpace and Facebook are moving to a more open model to benefit their own relationships with advertisers, and create an "advertising friendly" space.
Facebook passes the "user ID of the page but not the person who clicked on the ad. We don't consider this personally identifiable information and our policy does not allow advertisers to collect user information without the user's consent," a Facebook spokesman said when speaking to WSJ.
Which means Facebook is trying to say that since the real name isn't in the information passed along, it's as good as anonymous, but it's not. The user ID is passed along, and any advertiser can then use that ID to go to Facebook and look up a profile. It's a nice PR slight of hand, but it's like having your cake and eating it too.
"Advertising companies are receiving information that could be used to look up individual profiles, which, depending on the site and the information a user has made public, include such things as a person's real name, age, hometown and occupation," continues the WSJ report.
That means that Facebook can then target individual users or profiles in direct marketing efforts. The same goes with MySpace, because the advertiser knows you've shown interest in them by clicking on their ad, and can then focus their efforts on the people that clicked on an ad.
Both MySpace and Facebook are quick to talk about privacy settings and how that enhances privacy, but the issue we're looking at here isn't controlled by privacy settings. It can only be remedied by modifying the underlying technology of these sites.
So do you want parts of your identity offered up to advertisers, in a system that is all benefit to MySpace, Facebook and advertisers, and little benefit to you? This issue can't be fixed by tweaking your privacy settings.
I'd like to know what kind of a plan MySpace and Facebook have to change the nature of their URL system to protect user's privacy. Are there plans to fix this? What kind of timeline is there to implement the fix?