On social networks, tweet at your own risk

14 Apr On social networks, tweet at your own risk

Dallas Business Journal, By Jeff Bounds & Christopher Calnan, April 12, 2009
When it comes to online social networks such as Twitter, users should be aware that tweets could lead to trouble. A couple of University of Texas at Austin researchers have developed an algorithm for a “de-anonymization technique” that, by tracking common relationships, identifies the posters on social Web sites such as Flickr and Twitter. It’s a troubling proposition for business people, who in increasingly larger numbers have been using Twitter, the text message-based social networking tool. The problem is that Web sites such as Twitter still don’t have a revenue model and operators are free to do what they want with the information they collect. And if UT computer scientists can identify users, then marketers or criminals could, too, said Arvind Narayanan, who is one of the researchers and a doctoral candidate at UT. “To that extent, it presents a privacy threat,” he said. “Bad guys could do that to harm users in a variety of ways.” Narayanan and UT computer science professor Vitaly Shmatikov claim a third of verifiable users can be recognized by aggregating the Twitter information with publicly available information. Mike Lynn, a partner at the Dallas commercial-litigation law firm Lynn Tillotson Pinker & Cox LLP, says companies should monitor their presence on social networking sites, and only selected employees should also be able to update it. There ought to be guidelines about what can and can’t be posted on the site. He also cautions anyone who uses Twitter to be cautious of legal hassles that can result from their online posts. John Pozadzides is CEO of iFusion Labs LLC, a Frisco company that offers a technology service called Woopra, which tracks visitors to Web sites in real time. “Communications are taking place right now on Twitter, Facebook, and all the other social networking services behind your back,” he says. “It’s going on, whether you ignore it or not. The wisest course of action is to be informed about what’s being said about you in public forums.” Companies with brands to protect should immediately get on social networking sites like Twitter and lock up the user ID associated with those brands, he says. “If you don’t get it, somebody else will.”