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updated 6/7/2011 5:48:15 PM ET 2011-06-07T21:48:15

Over the past few years, a new phenomenon has popped up on the Internet – you can "share" almost everything you read.

That's in addition to the Facebook -generated "Like" button, with which you can affirm your friends' status updates (if you're too lazy to make an actual comment) or let the world know you like anything from a particular TV show to laundry detergent. There are even websites set up to help you pick things to "like."

Social networking has changed the way we do things online. Consumers no longer have a passive relationship with what they read. Instead, they can make their voices heard through comments, sharing, and liking.

[ 6 Steps to Staying Safe on Social Networks ]

But can the ability to let your opinions be known relinquish too much of your own privacy ?

Yes it can, said Christopher Burgess, senior security advisor at Cisco.

"By hitting the 'like' button," Burgess said, "you are giving demographic information about yourself to the site."

While the information you've provided is fairly low level, it is enough to allow websites to personalize the ads that appear on the site you're viewing.

For example, like a particular sports team on Facebook? You'll likely get ads related to that team and that sport on your home page. Does CNN know your location? That would explain why state-specific political ads are popping up.

Perhaps more alarming is the trend that connects the public with the personal. Many websites now link their comments area with Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites.

If you choose to make a comment on the site, your name, as it appears on the social media site, is available to all readers, and in some circumstances, links to your personal page as well. Some sites also allow you to see how your friends network has responded to articles and products.

To preserve your privacy, Burgess recommends always logging out of social media sites before moving on to another website.

This not only prevents the website from "reading" too much of your personal information, but it can prevent what Burgess called "digital debris" unintentionally being left on any website you visit.

Another option would be to make sure your browser is set up so cookies are deleted whenever you log out of a site.

Burgess suggests visiting sites in "private browsing" mode (available in most browsers), if a site allows it.

"That cuts down on cookie mayhem and digital debris," he said.

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