Social network data harvesting is something that could be a concern for those scared of screen scraping, but there are simple steps that people can take themselves to stop their information being appropriated.
Internet safety and security expert Linda Criddle recently noted how screen scraping can affect social network users. Speaking to komonews.com, she explained: “It means that you are literally gathering, collecting all the information you can find on a screen.
“Gathering that information off these social networking sites is quick. And what you don’t share about yourself, your friends probably did.”
As Tony Bradley recently wrote for PCWorld, often the details people place on their social network profiles are the same used in security questions for banks and websites. If the information is screen scraped, there could be serious consequences.
Facebook users should review their privacy settings if they want to avoid being a target for malicious data harvesting, Mr Bradley pointed out. They can do this by heading to the relevant section on the menu bar and then selecting the privacy settings option once they are logged onto the website.
The PCWorld expert’s recommendation is for people to hide their details from everyone but their Facebook friends, though they can also opt to let members of their networks view details as well.
“From time to time you may get a friend request from someone you don’t know. If you’re serious about protecting your personal information, you shouldn’t accept such requests,” Mr Bradley recommended.
He advised considering the removal of valuable personal data such as birth dates and hometowns. Mr Bradley also warned against Facebook quizzes and chain lists as attackers can use information from these to assume other identities.
There are those that believe keeping data safe from thieves is particularly hard on social networks, so people looking to avoid the screen scrapers may want to avoid such sites altogether.
Speaking to the Boston Globe, Sophos analyst Chester Wisniewski commented: “To me, it’s way too difficult to protect your privacy on Facebook the way it’s configured now.”
It appears that the European Commission is looking to tackle privacy issues with social networking sites, which could benefit those hoping to avoid screen scraping of their profiles.
In a recent speech, Viviane Reding, member of the European Commission responsible for information society and media, noted that marketing companies look to use personal data for their campaigns and this is a worry.
“Monitoring internet users’ web browsing to better target them with advertisements gives rise to privacy concerns. Users are not always aware that they are being tracked whenever browsing the internet,” Ms Reding said.
“For me it is clear that without the prior informed consent of citizens their data cannot be used,” she stated.
As a sign of the willingness to spread awareness of keeping data on the internet secure from information appropriators such as screen scrapers, an event named Safer Internet Today was organised for February 9th. The theme was Think B4 U Post and it sought to encourage young people to stay aware of the risks of sharing personal data over the internet.
Talking about the day, Ms Reding commented: “Online safety concerns all of us. Young people across Europe spend a good part of their leisure time, playing, interacting and learning on the web. The overall traffic on social networking sites has grown enormously over the last three years.
“Therefore, it is even more our responsibility as Europeans to make the online world a safe and secure environment that everyone can enjoy.”