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Warning: Social Networks Leaking Your Info

Will social networks be the downfall of humanity? Probably not, but they're apparently leaking your personal information to third-party advertising and tracking companies. This enables those parties to associate the browsing habits to a specific person, meaning they'll know where consumers are going and what they're checking out... just like the government.

The revelation was made over a month ago (PDF), but was recently revisited by Macworld and mentioned in a blog post by civil liberties Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). "There are some interesting technical details in how the social networking sites leak this data," said EFF's Peter Eckersley. "In some cases, the leakage may be unintentional, but in others, there is clever and surreptitious anti-privacy engineering at work."

There's anti-privacy engineering at work on Facebook? On MySpace? Talk like that gives a new meaning to the word "conspiracy." But according to the study, eleven out of twelve social networks are leaking personal information to data aggregators by way of tiny images or invisible JavaScripts embedded in the Web pages. Eckersley said on his blog that he caught ten different tracking domains embedded in CareerBuilder. The scary aspect is that each of these tracking companies can follow consumers over multiple different websites, following them as they surf the Web.

Eckersley goes on to mention the study conducted by AT&T Labs and WPI in his blog. "The main theme of the paper is that when you log in to a social networking site, the social network includes advertising and tracking code in such a way that the 3rd party can see which account on the social network is yours," he said. "They can then just go to your profile page, record its contents, and add them to their file."

Scary stuff indeed.