First there was last week’s kerfuffle over the Wall Street Journal piece headlined, “Facebook in Privacy Breach.” (Sneak ADtack take here.)

CyberBible TechCrunch dismissed the report as the inmates running the asylum:

So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that most people in tech, let alone the general population, have no idea what the article is even about. But even the top paragraph summary, when read carefully, is a snoozer:

Many of the most popular applications, or “apps,” on the social-networking site Facebook Inc. have been transmitting identifying information—in effect, providing access to people’s names and, in some cases, their friends’ names—to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.

Yes, that’s what this is all about. Sometimes identifying information about you – your name and maybe your friends’ names – is theoretically being passed on from Facebook to apps and then to advertising networks. Along the way it’s being stored by various companies that are in the business of gathering data about people to resell to others, chiefly Rapleaf.

The way this is being done is via referrer URLs (99% of the general population just got lost on what those are), which can contain profile IDs. Which can then be used to look up users. And whatever information that user has in his or her public profile can then be scraped and added to a database.

And then…well, nothing. It’s in a database. And theoretically can be used to target ads to you.

The only real concern is that all that data can also be tied to you doing something with a third party app. So in addition to your profile information, the database also gets to know that you like Farmville.

Is this a real problem? No.

But then comes this piece from the New York Times:

Marketers Can Glean Private Data on Facebook

Lede:

Online advertising offers marketers the chance to aim ads at very specific groups of people — say, golf players in Illinois who make more than $150,000 a year and vacation in Hawaii.

But two recent academic papers show some potential pitfalls of such precise tailoring.

Both papers focus on Facebook ads and show that in certain circumstances, advertisers — or snoops posing as advertisers — may be able to learn sensitive profile information, like a person’s sexual orientation or religion, even if the person is sharing that information only with a small circle of friends. Facebook does not share such information with advertisers.

Apparently, it doesn’t need to.


John R. Carroll is media analyst for NPR's Here & Now and senior news analyst for WBUR in Boston. He also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town.
John R. Carroll has 303 post(s) on Sneak Adtack