I’ve been using a number of social networking services for quite a while, with instant messaging and Twitter being the ones I use most. With the popularity of URL shortening services such as bit.ly, tr.im, 3.ly, ShortURL, TinyURL,and others we lose one of our more effective pieces of vigilance for safe browsing habits. By having a masked URL, we don’t know where the truncated link will take us. While we can determine where the link is, this is a cumbersome and manual process.
For example, I used this bit.ly link http://bit.ly/1cKYz on Twitter to Tweet about last week’s post about finding good things within Twitter amongst the blabber. I can go to this link, http://bit.ly/info/1cKYz, to determine the long URL. I think it ripe for a browser plug-in to become mainstream for all browsers to expose the long URL so we can make that judgment call before clicking a truncated URL. Currently users can install plug-ins such as Long URL Please for Firefox. I use bit.ly for my Twitter links, so I am in a way torn on the risks here.
The way social networking services work, truncated URLs can be passed around quite a bit, and the true originator of the truncated link may not be easily determined. This again circumvents another safe browsing behavior in that we do not know the source of the link and its potential information. Further, many applications for social networking products like Twitter make it very difficult as the vast array of helper products display Tweets differently.
While we may be protected by site filtering and system malware alerts, the truncated URL introduces a risk to the long-standing common sense that can be applied simply by looking at domain names of hyperlinks. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about Twitter being bad or evil, only about the URL truncating services possibly causing a risk. Share your comments on URL shortening below.