Social Networking Sites: Safety First

On: September 28, 2009
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About Charlotte van Brakel
My name is Charlotte van Brakel. I'm a 23 year old student at the University of Amsterdam where I currently participate the master of New Media studies. Before that I studied 'Kunsten, cultuur en Media' at the 'Rijksuniversiteit Groningen'. It took me 5 years to get my bachelors degree because I attended a lot of extra activities next to my classes. I was among other things a member of the board of the cultural studentorganisation of the university in Groningen which is similar to CREA in Amsterdam and I also founded and organized the music festival 'Preipop' for three years.


The rise of social networking sites makes people put a lot of personal information on the internet. The idea behind this is simple. How more complete and updated your profile is, the more easier you are to find on the web and the more friends you get.

I always found it interesting to see how Hyves has generated a function in it’s program that points out other people you would like to be friends with because you could possibly know them. Nine out of then times they indeed selected persons you like or at least know. Sometimes this can be quite surprising because there are often persons included that aren’t related to your other friends and can’t be linked to anyone. I often question myself how this is posible. How did they find out? Do they secretly use other information that is found on other devices such as your userlist on MSN or?


The urge to put your personal facts on the internet also has a downside. How more you fill in, the more people know about you and this can be annoying or even dangerous. A while ago there was a warning advertisement that all the members of Hyves received that was adjusted to the information you have on your profile. It showed a couple of criminals that were looking for a human target. They could tell a lot about you by checking out your profile, such as: where you live, where you go to school, your name and a picture of you. This showed how people could easily abuse this information to get to you.

Next to this possibility to gather information about certain people from these profiles, the networking sites are also sellling certain information to compagnies. They state that the information that is given is anonymous but this is not the case. So even when you are really careful with the online publication of your information this doesn’t mean that you are anonymous and ‘safe’ as is stated in the article ‘Social networks make it easy for 3rd parties to identify youthat is written by Jacqui Chen this month.

It is a fact that a lot of websites share some data about it’s users to advertising partners, but when this comes to social network sites this information is not anonymized. This sharing happens trough ‘leakages’ whereby the advertising compagnies can link the information they receive from social networks to your personal information as your name and where you live when they make a bit of an efford. This is possible because your profile has an unique identifier. They can also track your Web browsing activities. As is stated in the above mentioned article this could have unknown consequences because this information could be revealed to future employers that for example could find out that you often visit sites about burnouts. This could be because you think you have one or maybe you only know someone who has one and you want to help him. This could effect your chance on getting a job. The only thing you can do to avoid such situations is to lock down as much information as possible. Here is a guide that describes what is the best way to do so.

By reading this article a lot of questions came to mind. How do they exactly gather information? Is it used for other purposes than advertising? Is it legal to do so? Shouldn’t there be regulations? How will this develop in the future? Will everybody know everything about everyone or will there be more rules about this to prevent the abuse of personal information.

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