Preston Gralla

MySpace: All your data belong to us

September 18, 2007 9:32 AM EDT
MySpace is about take the crown from Google for being the biggest privacy-invader on the Internet. It's about to mine all its users personal information as a way to target ads at them. But that may be just the beginning. Will sales of that data be far behind?

The New York Times reports that MySpace has launched a massive data mining operation, with 100 employees, to grab every piece of personal information it can about its users, and then use that to finely target ads.

The goal, of course, is increased revenue. The company may be able to almost double its revenue, from $40 million a month to $70 million a month, thanks to the data mining, the paper reports.

But what happens to that treasure trove of sometimes exceedingly personal information about MySpace users? If the government issues subpoenas for it, will MySpace turn it over? Will MySpace turn it over without a subpoena? What about selling that personal information to the highest bidder?

Remember, MySpace is owned by Rupert Murdoch, a man not well-known for the niceties of things like privacy, when there's money to be made.

Privacy advocates are not pleased by MySpace's actions. Jeff Chester, executive director at the Center for Digital Democracy in Washington, told the Times, "People should be able to congregate online with their friends without thinking that big brother, whether it is Rupert Murdoch or Mark Zuckerberg, are stealthily peering in."

He plans to ask the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether social networks such as MySpace use deceptive and unfair practices when it comes to privacy. He wants the issue to be discussed during the FTC's planned hearings about Internet privacy in November.

There's nothing inherently wrong with targeted advertising. But there should be an opt out for it. And there should be strict regulations about how that information can be used, and who has access to it. Right now, it's the Wild West when it comes to Internet privacy, and it's time to tame it.