*Updated* Hyves Pulls Plug on Student Projects After Waag Society Event

On: May 22, 2008
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About Michael Stevenson
I am a lecturer and PhD candidate in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. I've been a contributor to Masters of Media since 2006, though I now only post occasionally. A short list of papers and projects can be found here

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((Looks like a possible false alarm, please see update below))
Online social network Hyves has blocked access to the profiles pages for unregistered users. Now one has to be registered and logged in to view a Hyver’s full profile, which was not the case previously. The move by Hyves – the most popular social networking site in the Netherlands – comes a day after a series of student presentations at Waag Society highlighted the accessibility of Hyves users’ personal information.

Hyves employees, including a co-founder, were present at “Visualizing the Network”, where students from the University of Amsterdam and the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht presented work that was the result of “scraping” Hyves profiles. “Scraping” is a term for automated data harvesting. Two student projects used this data to analyze and visualize relationships between Hyves users. One of these, MatchMaker, analyzes Hyver’s profiles to compute matches between friends. Another project, Vriendjespolitiek.net, provided an exploratory visualization to show the compatibility between a Hyver and the Hyves friends of political party leaders, based on profile data such as favorite movies or books. The visualization tool revealed, for example, that Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has few interests in common with his Hyves friends.

The presentations are not the first instance of third-party use of Hyves data being brought to light. Yesterday, for example, there were stories of the Dutch police’s use of Hyves, something that was also reported as far back as a year ago.

Ironically, Hyves appears to have taken up the critique made in another of the student presentations, regarding the amount of personal information being made available through online social networks. Hyves’ decision to block access to the profiles has brought the two student projects – Vriendjespolitiek and MatchMaker – to a standstill.

Update 23/05

I may have spoken too soon. The problems appear to involve a scheduled update to Hyves, with which they encrypted their login system (and changed the domain to hyves.org). It is unclear how this changed the accessibility of profile data, so access to full profiles may have been blocked before. The good news, though, is that a programmer from Vriendjespolitiek.net says their application should be working again before long.

Update 11/06

Vriendjespolitiek.net is back online en fully functional through the usage of secure login to Hyves.

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