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Searches cripple Web group privacy

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Oct 25,2006
Some Internet communities offer options designed to render comments invisible to all but specified users. But in fact such information is visible through search engines. Type “bank account number” and “members” in the search window of Naver, Korea’s largest portal site, and the search returns more than 6,000 links to Internet communities. Through those links, any stranger can read community posts, even if the posts are supposed to be off-limits to the public. Only if one tries to access the posts directly through the community’s Web site do security measures block access for non-members. Similarly, on the portal site Daum, a search for “chemical fibers” and “Ulsan” will bring up posts from the Web community of a labor union in Ulsan. Some of the posts are internal documents with phone numbers of union members. When the head of the community site was interviewed by phone, he said he had no idea such online information could be accessed by outsiders. “Only designated members can read posts on our site, so I had no idea they could be viewed through search functions,” he said. Currently, the number of Web communities that major portal sites host is tremendous: Daum has 6.25 million, Naver has 2 million, and Cyworld has 1.05 million communities. Private information is exposed because the search engines include community posts in search results. Just setting a community site to private is not enough. A community leader must also change configurations and prevent search engines from prowling community posts. Naver and Cyworld have a ticker box at the bottom of each page which users can “de-tick” if they do not want their content exposed. “We’re giving users the choice,” a Naver spokesman said. But many users don’t pay attention to this function, because they assume that a private Web community will not be subject to searches. Lim Jong-in, head of Korea University’s Information Protection Graduate School, noted that portals may offer a range of privacy settings, but said that companies should spend more time promoting these updated functions. by Kim Won-bae


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