Social networks eye the myspace phenomenon – targeted ads and privacy issues move to forefront

Social networks seems to be all buzz this year, and for good reason. There have been many social network startups, and many social network software platforms (and even more) arriving for would be myspace clones. Boing Boing has added commenting to their posts, and digg has recently added profile pages to their already social posting site. Yahoo recently launched it’s mash social network (wonder what is going to happen to the 360 social network they had started?). Google has added some kind of google dating search to their dating search results. Social, personal, user generated data, it’s all exploding everywhere, and many people do not know the privacy consequences of their postings.
Myspace recently announced that they will be better targeting ads to the individual based upon profile information. I for one am still interested to see stories coming out about further data mining things like bulletins and chain posts that often contain a lot of personal information, and some of those questionares appear to have a few questions of interest to insurance companies, more disclosure would be prudent I believe.

A recent article found via yahoo / AP:

By GARY GENTILE, AP Business Writer Tue Sep 18, 7:06 PM ET

LOS ANGELES – News Corp.’s MySpace social networking site is using personal details contained on users’ profile pages and blogs to sell highly targeted advertising, the company said Tuesday.

The Web site started the first phase of its “interest targeting” experiment in July, culling likes and dislikes from its users’ pages to sell ads in 10 broad categories such as finance, autos, fashion and music.

MySpace advertisers can now get much more than the basic demographic data contained in site registration forms, Peter Levinsohn, who heads Fox Interactive Media, told an investor conference.

The site has more than 3 million users in each category and can place ads based on responses to questions about users’ likes and dislikes, favorite movies and music. Data is even extracted from blog entries, where users write at length about their lives.

Targeting ads well can be lucrative for MySpace and its corporate parent, but it can also backfire if users believe their personal expressions are being misused.

When MySpace rival Facebook last year introduced a feature that allows users to more easily track changes their friends make to profiles, many users denounced it as stalking and threatened protests and boycotts. Facebook had to quickly apologize and agree to let users turn off the feature so that others can’t easily see what they do.

Levinsohn said MySpace would only use information users have freely expressed on their pages.

MySpace should inform users it is using their profile information to sell more targeted ads, Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a California-based nonprofit, said.

“Many young people don’t seem to have privacy protection instincts,” Givens said.

Levinsohn used the example of a user named “Jill” who identifies herself as a fashionista and wrote in her blog about the new fashion lineup.

“She even goes so far as telling us she needs new boots for the fall,” Levinsohn said. “How would you like to be an advertiser selling boots to her?”

Next, MySpace plans to broaden its categories so it can market ads for a movie such as “Fantastic Four,” for instance, to people who said they have an interest in comics, action films and even the film’s star, Jessica Alba.

“This is really just the beginning for us,” he said. “No one else in the marketplace can offer this kind of concentrated reach.”

At a conference in New York, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch remarked on the importance of creating categories for advertisers to buy on MySpace and vowed “to build it better than anybody.”

Sales of targeted ads could help Web sites earn more per ad sold. Earlier this year, Yahoo Inc. launched SmartAds, a platform for delivering customized display ads, while Time Warner Inc.’s AOL bought the behavioral-targeting company Tacoda.

The research company eMarketer projects that spending on behavioral targeting will nearly double to $1 billion next year and hit $3.8 billion by 2011.

Advertising is getting more targeted, but I have already seen some backlash in the form of people swearing to put all fake information in their profiles, and more use of adblock software. Sometimes too personal is just too personal. More people are blogging about the info that advertisers are using from web surfing habits, and google recently announced that serious privacy decisions need to be made within 5 years, although I think that is a realistic timeline, really, much should be decided and publicly presented much sooner in our over connected world.
google privacy article from Reuters: * Links added by co-author of this post, not original author!

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – National regulators need to agree on a basic set of global privacy protections for the Internet within the next five years, a senior official with web searcher Google said on Monday.

Peter Fleischer, the firm’s global privacy counsel, said three quarters of countries had no Internet privacy standards at a time when the amount of sensitive personal and financial data on the Web was soaring.

Google — itself criticized for the threat it poses to personal privacy — says the firm’s business agenda, the world economy and the Internet could suffer unless more is done to ensure basic privacy on the Web.

“What we’re saying is that the Internet is making this particularly urgent and that the Internet develops at a different speed than the speed at which traditional lawmaking and policy-making discussions take place,” Fleischer said.

“I think this is something that needs to happen within five years. That’s just us saying what we think is realistic as an urgent action,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Google, unhappy with what it calls a patchwork of conflicting privacy rules in some countries and a complete lack in many others, is pressing for action amid criticism about the enormous access to personal information on the Web.

“I think everyone has acknowledged that the status quo is not good enough any more,” said Fleischer.

Google wants countries to adopt privacy principles agreed by several Asia-Pacific countries. Fleischer said some backed this idea while others wanted to focus on what the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is doing.

“That’s fine. The important thing from Google’s perspective is that there is a focus and debate around moving forward on global privacy standards,” he said.

“If we can … improve the standards in three quarters of the countries in the world, regardless of which model they follow, that is a huge step forward.”

He said perfect harmonization was unlikely, but the basic model could combine laws, codes of conduct and best practices.

Even if nations did not agree on standards within five years, Google would consider it progress if some countries without Internet privacy rules took action, said Fleischer.

“We’re playing a very long game here. We believe we’re working for the success of Google services over a very long period of time … and one of the things that everybody needs to improve is an understanding of privacy,” he said.

There have been some articles about people who are shocked that employers, and police are using myspace, facebook and similar social networks to look into your life, but I do not think there has been enough in the media about it, nor easy to use options to stop info you want to share with friends from being put out into the public. Ex lovers and future love interests of course may also be stalking your myspace page, as well as your friend’s kids I come to find out.
from the college recruiter blog:

Facebook and MySpace Used by Employers, Schools, and Police

If you’re like most college and even high school students, you have posted your profile to Facebook, MySpace, or another social networking site. But did you realize that your profile can easily be accessed by potential employers, schools, law enforcement agencies, and others? As much as that revelation may be a shock for students, it also came as a shock to those who set up the sites because they never intended outsiders to use the information for purposes other than benign social networking.

The terms of service of these sites typically prohibit their use for commercial purposes. Facebook’s terms of service page, for example, states that users understand that the service is available for “personal, non-commercial use only.” No reasonable person could argue with a straight face that recruitment is a non-commercial use, but just because such use is prohibited doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.

Let me be clear that I love Facebook, MySpace, and the other social networking sites. They’re wonderful tools to help students and others connect with people who share their interests. But they also must be used carefully. You should assume that anything that you post on-line is going to be read by your old-fashioned grandmother. If you’re fine with her reading your profile, then its contents should be fine. Few would talk with their grandmothers about getting drunk, sexual experiences, breaking laws, etc. so why would they post such information on-line for anyone and everyone to read? Perhaps it is our exhibitionist culture. Today’s college students have grown up in an era where the most celebrated stars are on reality TV shows, so how can we blame them for believing that such behavior is to be celebrated rather than pitied?