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Rogue Marketers Can Mine Your Info on Facebook

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Got an e-mail list of customers or readers and want to know more about each — such as their full name, friends, gender, age, interests, location, job and education level?

Facebook has just the free feature you’re looking for, thanks to its recent privacy changes.

The hack, first publicized by blogger Max Klein, repurposes a Facebook feature that lets people find their friends on Facebook by scanning through e-mail addresses in their contact list.

But as Klein points out, a marketer could take a list of 1,000 e-mail addresses, either legally or illegally collected — and upload those through a dummy account — which then lets the user see all the profiles created using those addresses. Given Facebook’s ubiquity and most people’s reliance on a single e-email address, the harvest could be quite rich.

Using a simple scraping tool, a marketer could then turn a list of e-mail addresses into a rich, full-fledged set of markeying profiles, with names, pictures, ages, locations, interests, photos, wall posts, affiliations and names of your friends, depending on how users have their profiles set. Run a few algorithms on that data and you can start to make inferences about race, income, sexual orientation and interests.

While that information isn’t available for all users, Facebook changed its privacy settings in early December so that certain information can’t be made private, including one’s name, current city, profile picture, gender, networks and friend list (the latter can be somewhat hidden from public view).

Anyone with your e-mail address can harvest that information, the company admits.

That’s unacceptable, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Kevin Bankston, who says that’s not the Facebook people signed up for.

From Wired
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