Another day, another headline about Facebook privacy (or lack of it).

The most recent story focuses not on  Facebook’s own cavalier attitude towards the “dumb f-ks” who trust Mark Zuckerberg with their personal details, but on the unauthorised data scraping of 500 000  facebook photographs by dating website lovely-faces.com.

I first became aware of the term “scraping” in regard to mining information from websites when the media research company Nielson was found to have scraped data from the discussion forums on the US-based Patients Like Me website. “Patients Like Me” hosts patient discussions on a range of conditions from HIV/AIDS to cancer to mood disorders. It includes a range of user-friendly feautures, such as an on-line diary to record medication changes and symptoms as well as webcasts of relevant talks and stories about the latest research. The website sells the (de-identified) information shared on the discussion boards to”companies that are developing or selling products to patients”.

I’ve been an intermittent user of the Patients Like Me Multiple Sclerosis site – as with so many internet niches, it’s a useful place to turn during sleepless nights. At one level, Nielson’s scraping was basically shoplifting from the website rather than a violation of the privacy of its users, who have already consented to the sale of the data that they provide. But all the same, the story gave me a jolt.

The next e-mail from Patients Like Me invited me to “join the discussion” on MS and sex appeal. “Do you think that MS has impacted your sex appeal?”

I don’t know – that sounds like the sort of question that’s really more suitable for Facebook…

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