Facebook Leaks User Info to Advertisers

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Facebook is having a mixed year. On one hand, the social network succeeded last month in integrating itself with more than 50,000 Web sites to become a better portal from which users can search the Internet. On the other hand, concerns over privacy on Facebook (or the lack thereof) have reached a fever pitch.

Each year, the site changes its privacy policy, and with this year’s change, the policy is now actually longer than the U.S. constitution and probably even more complicated. Users have complained that they are powerless to prevent Facebook from showing their personal information to third-party sites and that the site makes it very difficult to delete accounts. In fact, thousands of users are planning to quit Facebook May 31.

To add fuel to the fire, The Wall Street Journal reported last night that Facebook had leaked information about the social network’s members to advertisers. “The practice… sends user names or ID numbers tied to personal profiles being viewed when users click on ads,” the Journal reports. The worry is that advertisers can use this information to look at a user’s profile and discover where they live, what they do for a living and more.

Other social networks like MySpace, Digg and Xanga are also guilty of doing this, but as the Journal notes, it’s a more sensitive issue for Facebook. "The issue is particularly significant for Facebook on two fronts: the company has been pushing users to make more of their personal information public and the site requires users to use their actual names when registering on the site.” Plus, as CNET notes, Facebook explicitly guarantees that it will not share users’ personal information without their consent.

Facebook claims to have fixed this issue now and the site is going a step further to smooth things over with users by “simplifying” its privacy policy next week. Perhaps they are feeling more pressure to do this, not just because of the bad press recently, but also because there are new startups and old foes trying to take over the top spot in the social networking world.

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