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Meetup Has No Privacy

June 19, 2012

When it comes to privacy, it is the big social networks that receive most of the attention. About a year ago, The Wall Street Journal ran an entire series of articles about Facebook alone. So it is left to Theo to pick up the mop and check out some of the smaller social networks. In this post we look at meetup.com. Meetup allows people to set up gatherings around interests such as fitness or technology. Users of Meetup set up accounts, add in their information, connect to meetup groups, and sign up to individual events. But there’s a catch: Meetup pushes these sign-ups to the wide open web on it’s front page, as sort of  a “waterfall” of users signing up to all sorts of events, with their name in full view. This is how it looks:

Anybody, logged in to Meetup or not, can click through to the meetup group and check out all the good people who have signed up to upcoming events of a meetup group. Everything geo-enabled, of course, replete with zip codes and address of the meetup events. Everything is out in the open.

Needless to say, this is a problem. It is only a short step to write a screen scraper app that continuously listens in to the waterfall of sign-ups and that scrapes off all the relevant member details – relevant as in within close proximity to the device that runs the scraper app. What a convenient way for would-be burglars to capture names, possibly addresses and other information about people likely not being at home at a certain time in the future.

Update: Now, there’s app for that.

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