University of Southern California

Using Social Media Safely: Previewing Shortened URLs

Posted on by mbordas

Users of social networking sites and apps often take advantage of URL shortening services, such as tinyURL, Bitly, or goo.gl, to make long, unwieldy website addresses more manageable. While these services can be convenient, they can present a security risk by obscuring the destination of a link.

Before clicking on a shortened URL, take a moment to preview the link destination. There are various options for previewing shortened URL destinations depending on the service used. A few examples are listed below (all shortened links in the examples below will take you to the US-CERT security publications page).

  • To preview shortened URLs beginning with goo.gl or bitly.com, copy and paste the link into your browser’s address bar and append a plus sign to the end of the URL. For example, if the shortened URL is http://goo.gl/Okzh0c, you can preview it by putting http://goo.gl/Okzh0c+ in your browser’s address bar.
  • To preview shortened URLs beginning with tinyurl.com, copy and paste the link into your browser’s address bar and add “preview.” to the beginning of the URL. For example, if the shortened URL is http://tinyurl.com/c82kjsm, you can preview it by putting http://preview.tinyurl.com/c82kjsm in your browser’s address bar.
  • To preview shortened URLs beginning with is.gd, copy and paste the link into your browser’s address bar and append a hyphen to the end of the URL. For example, if the shortened URL is http://is.gd/oL0qns, you can preview it by putting http://is.gd/oL0qns- in your browser’s address bar.

Online tools, such as www.longurl.org and www.toolsvoid.com/unshorten-url will show the actual URL of any shortened link. Add-ons and extensions are available for some browsers that allow you to preview a URL without leaving your current page.

Previewing shortened URLs will help you to follow an important rule of Internet safety: always know where your clicks will take you.

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