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Jan. 27, 2011

Social Networking’s Hidden Tradeoff

by Ira Flatow

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We all love free stuff. Whether it’s tiny sample tooth paste tubes or a free smartphone app. But don’t you wonder why people give away stuff for nothin’ (or is this just the cynical New Yorker in me)?
 
Well, it turns out that there is a tradeoff for that free iPhone or Android app, or that free “extension” to your web browser. In many cases when you install it, the freebie takes a bit of your personal browsing information and sends it back to the app designer who may then sell it to a third party or use it to sell you something.
 
For example, that bit.ly link shortener. I use it all the time. But until I spoke to one of the bit.ly software folks, I thought that shortener was a public service. Naive me. When your link gets sent to bit.ly to be sliced and diced, those folks learn something about your preferences. After all, you just told them what site you are visiting, no?
 
There is a HUGE amount of such data being collected and massaged. And what’s being done with it is the topic of a Science Friday hour with Hillary Mason, lead scientist at bit.ly. Take a listen and you might learn what happens to your info…and what the the “ly”in bit.ly means. Care to take a guess…and why?
About Ira Flatow

Ira is the host and executive producer of Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Science Friday® and SciFri® are registered service marks of Science Friday, Inc. Site design by Pentagram; engineering by Mediapolis.

 

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