Social networks: be careful

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You know, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner doesn’t want to appear technophobic. We appreciate the benefits of new technology and the ease in communication that social networks like MySpace and Facebook can bring to society.

But we have to remind Canadians that they should be careful about the information they share online. We don’t just mean the usual suspects: birthday, address, social insurance number.

The same technological leaps that have provided us with these social networks have also provided companies with the computing power to scour the very same networks for reams of information. Information that can be used to categorize you.

And this is the subject of a New York Times article from earlier this week: “MySpace to Discuss Effort to Customize Ads”

“A 100-employee team inside the Fox Interactive Media offices … has designed computer algorithms to scour MySpace pages. In the first phase of the program, which the company calls “interest-based targeting,” the algorithms assigned members to one of 10 categories that represents their primary interest, like sports, fashion, finance, video games, autos and health.

The algorithms make their judgments partly on certain keywords in the profile. A member might be obvious by describing himself as a financial information enthusiast, for example. But more than likely the clues are more subtle. He might qualify for that category by listing Donald Trump as a hero, Fortune magazine as a favorite publication or “Wall Street” as a favorite movie.

The system also looks at the groups members belong to, who their friends are, their age and gender, and what ads they have responded to in the past. “Our targeting is a balance of what users say, what they do and what they say they do,” said Adam Bain, executive vice president for production and technology at Fox Interactive.” (New York Times)

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