More on social media and privacy: this time, a well-known hook-up website which allows visitors to check which of their friends have already joined up.
Badoo uses a tactic which is becoming more and more common in social media sites: ‘opt out’ privacy settings.
It means that unless you are very, very careful about how you join, it will advertise the fact that you have joined up to all your Facebook or email contacts.
For some, this is no problem, for others (e.g. those who are married) it could result in disaster. When we were reporting on Badoo, everyone in the office had a shot at running their contacts list through to see who had joined up… let’s just say the results were surprising and amusing.
Lesson one: if you are going to join these websites, and you value your privacy, be very careful and always read the small print.
Full text is on the Sunday Times’s website here, or after the fold
Flirting site betrays the love cheats
Users of casual encounters dating site Badoo.com can now check which of their friends have joined up using their email address
Badoo.com, a dating website known for casual encounters, urging users to “chat, flirt, meet up and have fun”, allows visitors to check which of their friends have joined up in search of romance.
You do not have to join the site to find out; just put your email address in and Badoo will do the rest. Facebook users are automatically informed which of their friends are on Badoo. The site also gives a visitor the option of checking their email contacts list to see which are Badoo members. About 1m British members log on to the site every month.
Even Badoo members who are single may wish to keep their online activity private.
Will Brennan, 29, a trainee solicitor from north London, was embarrassed to learn that the site was telling his contacts that he was a member.
“Initially Badoo was billed as a social networking site — the new Facebook, that sort of thing. So I signed up ages ago, but my friends didn’t really use it and I forgot all about it,” he said.
“I’ve long deleted it from my phone, but my girlfriend called up last week to ask why on earth I was on what’s now apparently a hook-up site.
“I was mortified and she thought I had a bit of explaining to do. Imagine if I’d been a married man — it could have caused serious problems.”
One Briton, now living in Colombia, caught his girlfriend using Badoo after it sent an automated message to his work email address inviting him to join her on the site.
New members are prompted to invite their friends to join. To protect their privacy, they can screen out recipients of this invitation by deselecting them from an online list of their friends. His girlfriend deselected his private email address but missed his work one.
“I created a fake profile of my own and contacted her, asking a few questions. She replied to say she had no boyfriend, gave me her new phone number and asked me if I could meet her. I decided to confront her a month later,” he said.
Badoo, which boasts more than 130m members worldwide, has its headquarters in Soho, central London.
It is owned by the Russian entrepreneur Andrey Andreev, once described by the Russian edition of Forbes magazine as “one of Russia’s most mysterious businessmen”. The service is free to join, but users pay for “super powers” to bump their profile to the top of the lists.
Using location information uploaded from the user’s phone, it flags up potential dates nearby. If you like the look of someone within a few miles you can arrange to meet.
A poll of 85,000 Badoo members this spring revealed that 59% of users had met someone they first contacted through the site and 30% admitted they met for sex.
In a 2009 study Joseph Bonneau and Soren Preibusch, researchers at Cambridge University, ranked Badoo worst for privacy out of 45 social websites, with a score of only 23%. MySpace scored marginally better with 28%, while Facebook and LinkedIn scored 53% and 70% respectively.
“My advice is to check sites carefully before signing up. Figure out how it works and look at other profiles to see if you’d be willing to reveal that much,” Bonneau said.
“Remember it could still be online for the next 20 years. It’s not like going out and meeting people in a bar — this is on the internet.”
Badoo profiles are also revealed in Google searches. Without even signing in, anyone who wishes can see pictures of Rob, 32, a married man from Bury, Greater Manchester, who “wants no strings fun with a girl, 30-40”.
Mark Brooks, a consultant specialising in online dating, said Badoo’s relaxed approach to privacy was a sign of the times: “One of the distinguishing features of dating sites has always been privacy. But there are advantages to people knowing who you are. The best way to meet people is through friends of friends — social dating — and that’s what Badoo is trying to emulate. This is the future.
“Yes, it’s an erosion of privacy, but the younger demographic don’t care so much. Badoo is for people who are a bit less concerned about privacy.”
Badoo said members can adjust their privacy settings to stop their membership being flagged up to casual visitors. “The press does tend to portray Badoo as a network oriented towards facilitating sexual encounters, yet this is simply not the case,” it said.
“We are not pretending that the sexual element does not exist; we are a meeting network for adults and their interactions reflect human behaviour in real life.”
Last week, the US Federal Trade Commission ruled that Facebook had “deceived consumers” by telling users their information would be kept private, but “repeatedly allowed it to be shared and made public”.
In May 2010, a glitch allowed Facebook users to access the text of friends’ chat logs and other private information for several hours.
A privacy breach at Twitter in 2009 saw a hacker gain access to some accounts, including that of President Barack Obama.
In 2008 Myspace said a loophole had been allowing users to access the photographs on private profiles, including those of under-16s.