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Those Social Networking Apps? Not as Safe as Your Employees Think

There's lots of talk about the time-wasting element inherent in social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. Along comes yet another reason for a smaller business to block these sites: Security, or lack thereof.
There's lots of talk about the time-wasting element inherent in social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. Along comes yet another reason for a smaller business to block these sites: Security, or lack thereof.Wired has an interesting article on how the private pages on these sites aren't so private.

Writes Martha Irvine: "People often think Facebook profiles and sometimes MySpace pages, if they're set as private, are only available to friends or specific groups, such as a university, workplace, or even a city. But that's not true if they use applications."

Apparently, if Facebook or MySpace users download applications to enhance their pages (and I defy you to find a user who doesn't), developers of the applications have access to the profiles.

As Irvine asks, what do these "third-parties" do with this access?

She answers: "Sometimes, they use it to connect users with similar interests. Sometimes, they use it to target ads, based on demographics such as gender and age (something Facebook and MySpace also do)."

She notes that both Facebook and MySpace say they hold application developers to "strict standards - and boot them if they don't comply. They also point out that some information, such as e-mail addresses and phone numbers, aren't made available."

But (and this is a big one) Irvine notes that "experts who track online security issues think there's too much personal information flying around out there, with few guarantees that it's safe. They also think social networkers have little understanding where their information goes and how it's used - and as a result, have a false sense of security."

This is where smaller businesses can get into trouble.

Mary Madden, a senior research specialist at the Pew Internet & American Life Project who studies privacy issues, is quoted: "I suspect that there's a whole lot of clicking without a lot of thinking. So much of this sharing happens in a way that users don't see the consequences. It's kind of a big, black hole."

It's not just that your employees are wasting time checking their Facebook and MySpace accounts. What are they putting up there that could make your smaller business vulnerable?

Adrienne Felt, a computer science major at the University of Virginia, researched the site's applications and created her own so she could see how it worked. She is quoted in the article as saying that "there's really nothing stopping them from matching profile information with public records. It also could be sold or stolen. And all of that could lead to serious matters such as identity theft."

Or worse. As the talk of how to use social networking for business increases, proceed  but proceed cautiously.

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