Monday, May 23, 2011

Following Your Online Footsteps: The Button Issue

Earlier this spring we wrote about social networking issues to be aware of, namely malware and clickjacking, and the importance of managing your online presence. Another issue seems to have surfaced: using social networking widgets to track website visits. Your visits.

Everyone knows of the "Like" (for Facebook) and "Tweet" (for Twitter) buttons, which were created to make it easy to share content with friends. These buttons are called social widgets, and they can be found on various web sites. With them you can link a page (for example, news, articles, or even products) easily and effortlessly on your Facebook wall or in your Twitter feed.

According to a study done for The Wall Street Journal, these widgets notify Facebook and Twitter that you visited a site even when you don't click on the buttons during a visit. The study also found that once you've logged into your Facebook or Twitter account in the past month, the widgets will continue to collect browsing data. This happens even if you close your browser or turn off your computer. Only after you explicitly log out does data collecting stop.

As mentioned earlier in this blog, your online reputation is worth preserving. Peter Eckersley, a senior technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (a privacy-advocacy group), is quoted in the Wall Street Journal article mentioned above. He says, "Our reading habits online encompass everything we're thinking about, political and religious views, health and relationship problems." Awareness of our choices and their safely implications - including whether to log off or to leave yourself logged in - is as important as being aware of cars when crossing a road. And like exercising caution when crossing a road, caution online will soon become second nature.

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