Pros and Cons of URL Shorteners

Prerequisite: URL Shorteners and its API in Python | Set-1, Set-2 .

After having a prolonged discussion on URL Shorteners and how they can be used programmatically. Let’s jot down a list of pros and cons of these services.
URL shortening services have been around for longer than most people realize. The first notable URL Shortening service TinyUrl was released in 2002. Since then there was no looking back. With the advent in technology, URL Shortening services are also upgrading themselves by increasing the number of services they provide to the user.
Apart from the URL Shortening service, they provide facility for tracking the activity on the shortened link which in technical terms we call Link Analytics. These services now days also provide a way to customize your Shortened URL in order to make it more attractive.
But irony is, they are not a totally perfect solution. Now, let’s discuss about some pros and cons of URL Shortening service and how they affect the privacy and security of a user on online social media. Let’s start with pros first.

Pros of URL Shorteners:

  • Attractive: Using URL Shorteners on Online Social Media exactly started or we can say became popular due to Twitter. Due to character Limit on Twitter, it was difficult for users to share long links. This was the only reason that made these URL Shortening services more popular in a short span of time. With the advent of these services, User was able to share as much as long URL on Twitter by simply shortening the URL. Thus making the post more attractive and appealing to the audience/ followers.
  • Link Analytics: Now a days majority of URL Shortening services provide a new feature, Tracking. For example, if we consider the case of Bitly, it provides Link Tracking feature. This feature enables the user to track the user activity-number of clicks, geographic location of the user who clicked the link on the shortened URL. This helps user to analyze the popularity of the link. Below is the sample snapshot of Link Analytics report of two links that were shortened using Bitly.
  • Customization: URL Shortening services also provide another feature that helps user to customise the shortened link. This will help to add a string as per your choice or need to the Shortened URL, to make it look nicer and less random. Below is the sample snapshot of how customization can be done. For demonstration purpose, I have used the following long URL:

    https://contribute.geeksforgeeks.org/dfd-based-threat-modelling-set-1/

Now let us have a look on Cons of URL Shortening Services.

Cons of URL Shorteners:

  • Abuse: URL Shortening services are a great source for spammers and hackers to get a hold of victim computer. They share a link and fool user into clicking the link. Thus, either setting up the virus in the victim computer or getting important user credentials through fake URL. This definitely breaches privacy and security of the user. It is very important to keep following points in mind:
    • Always check the link before clicking it. The easiest way is just to place your cursor on the link and you will get an idea where shortened URL is exactly pointing.
    • Do not click a link shared by unknown person. If a link is shared by email, read the email carefully for the signs of spammed email. If not a spam email, you can check where link directs and then click on the link.
    • Do not share your important credentials like bank details, social media user id-password on such shared links.

    Due to such abuse of URL shortening services, many have been discontinued. It is very important and difficult to keep domain spam free.

  • Dead Link: If the shortening service, that was used to shorten the URL is discontinued, Link will stop working. Thus, making it a Dead Link. These phenomena is also known as Linkrot
  • Blocking: Some Social Media Platform do not accept shortened Links. For example, Wikipedia do not accept shortened Links. Yahoo!Answers blocks posts that contain links shortened using TinyUrl Shortening service.
  • Advertising: We have discussed in the previous article about Adf.ly. This is a URL Shortening Service that allows user to earn by shortening a link or user can pay to advertise their website on Adf.ly homepage. It uses interstitial advertising for generating revenue. This may deter readers.
  • Privacy and Security Breach: As discussed earlier, shortened URL can redirect to a spam or scam webpage. Thus, breaching the privacy and security of the users. Many shortening services provide an option of preview to the users to view the redirection of the link before clicking on it. For example, TinyUrl was declared unsafe by ZoneAlarm, stating that TimyUrl is known to spread spyware. To counter this problem, TinyUrl provides the option to preview the destination before clicking on the link, by simply adding the word preview to the shortened URL like this:
    Shortened URL: https://tinyurl.com/ycgpdnek
    Preview keyword added: https://preview.tinyurl.com/ycgpdnek

Every Service has pros and cons but it’s upto us how we use it. It is better to use the service wisely, as in the era of social media every minute detail about us is online. Thus, making us more vulnerable.

References:

  1. https://www.techmaish.com/pros-and-cons-of-url-shorteners/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/URL_shortening#History
  3. https://prettylinks.com/2017/02/the-pros-and-cons-of-link-shortening/


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