Furious competition between social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace is compromising the protection of users' data, a Cambridge University study has concluded.
The survey covered 45 global social networks, ranging from popular sites such as MySpace and Facebook to lesser-known networks. Its authors report "serious concerns" about the extent to which these sites fail to keep users' personal information private.
It is the first detailed analysis to examine the security provisions of a large number of social networks.
While the problems it identifies, such as misleading privacy policies and inaccessible privacy guidelines, have long been suspected, the report provides new numerical data to confirm their scope.
Some 90 per cent of sites, for example, needlessly required a full name or date of birth for permission to join. 80 per cent failed to use standard encryption protocols to protect sensitive user data from hackers. And 71 per cent reserved the right to share user data with third parties in their privacy policies.
The study also argues that privacy is being compromised by rigorous competition for users. Researchers argue that open discussion of privacy on social networking sites puts off the average user, which discourages the owners from producing explicit or accessible privacy guidelines.