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MySpace shamed for sending user information to advertising companies‎

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29th Oct 2010
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MySpace has become the latest social networking site to be outed for allegedly transmitting user identity information to external advertising companies.

The revelations by the Wall Street Journal follow similar allegations about Facebook earlier this month. An investigation by the newspaper led to accusations that the site’s 10 most popular applications were passing personal information to at least 25 advertising and internet tracking firms.

In the case of MySpace, which like the Journal is owned by News Corp, user identity information is believed to being sent to third party agencies when users click on adverts. These unique numbers can be used to look up people’s profile page, which can include their real name, photographs, location, age and gender.

A mySpace spokesperson said that, while the data identified the user profile being viewed, it did not necessarily identify the person who clicked on the ad.

Advertising agencies being sent the data include Google, Quantcast and the Rubicon Project, although all of them denied using the information.

Some MySpace applications are also claimed to be transmitting user IDs. These allegedly include BitRhymes’ TagMe, which enables 8.3 million users to make and comment on friends, WonderHill’s Greenspot virtual gardening game that has 1.8 million users and RockYou RockYou Pets, which has 6.1 million users.

The vendor said that it prohibits application providers from sharing user data, including user IDs, with third parties. "It has recently come to our attention that several third party app developers may have violated these terms and we are taking appropriate action against these developers," a spokesperson added.

Craig Will, a professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, said that the use of referral data such as user IDs was becoming a growing problem on the web. As more websites tried to exploit social network capabilities, "there is a potential danger that those sites without the identifier don’t necessarily take care of it and potentially leak it to whatever third parties are present," he added.

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