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Fallout From Facebook’s Huge Privacy Hack: A Serious Unfriending

The Big Hack in April, in which even Mark Zuckerberg’s data got scraped, was hardly the first one Facebook faced

We’ll let engineering prof Karl Stephan start the story, comparing Facebook to God:

For purposes of discussion, we will compare Facebook to the traditional Judeo-Christian God of the Old and New Testaments. And we will restrict the comparison primarily to two matters: communication and trust (or faith).

Users of Facebook communicate with that entity by entering personal information into Facebook’s system. That act of communication is accompanied by a certain level of trust, or faith. Facebook promises to safeguard one’s information and not to reveal it to anyone else without your permission…

Karl D. Stephan, “In Facebook we trust” at MercatorNet

Safeguard the information? As recent news reports revealed, a month ago today, a hacker released roughly 533 million users’ phone numbers and personal data for free online. That included CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s own phone number and personal data as well as the full names, email addresses, whereabouts, and whatever biographical information Facebook had on all those other users in 106 countries. An earlier hack in 2016 involved harvesting employee passwords but it was apparently treated as “no big deal” at the time. Then a hack in 2018 compromised 50 million users. The current hack involves the data in the system prior to patching a leak in 2019.

Do you still think Facebook is a very secure system? It doesn’t help that its user support in cases of hacking was considered poor before the big April hack. Techmag Gizmodo offers advice on checking if your phone number is included in the hack.

Social media facebook dis-like

Business Insider points out that the information could be used to impersonate people. But that, at least, is a crime in most places. The information could also be used for countless spam phone calls, which disrupt communications and waste your time but may not carry any criminal penalties, depending on the jurisdiction.

In another recent development, Facebook has found itself in conflict with Apple over the latter’s planned rollout of privacy tools to help users protect their data. It certainly didn’t help that a story on the topic was published at Gizmodo this year less than a month before the big April hack:

Facebook hasn’t been too keen on that idea given that roughly 98% of its revenue stream depends on targeted ads, which are built around monitoring a person’s browsing habits. The company launched a campaign to convince folks that personalized ads are good, actually, which has so far involved taking out full-page ads in several leading newspapers to condemn Apple and running a video ad claiming that Apple’s privacy updates are killing small businesses by not giving Facebook and other apps free rein to hoover up your data.

Alyse Stanley, “Zuck Slowly Shrinks and Transforms Into a Corncob Ahead of Apple’s Looming Privacy Updates” at Gizmodo (March 18, 2021)

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, who was asked in an interview this month what he thought of Facebook’s concerns about Apple’s privacy apps, replied brutally, “I’m not focused on Facebook.” For a corporate CEO that’s pretty blunt.

But maybe more of us should be focused on Facebook. In another development, Facebook is training AI to “see” using 1 billion photos on Instagram (which it owns):

“The future of AI is in creating systems that can learn directly from whatever information they’re given — whether it’s text, images, or another type of data — without relying on carefully curated and labeled data sets to teach them how to recognize objects in a photo, interpret a block of text, or perform any of the countless other tasks that we ask it to,” Facebook’s researchers wrote in a blog post…

But many Instagram users may be surprised to hear that their images are being used to train Facebook AI systems.

“We inform Instagram account holders in our data policy that we use the information we have to support research and innovation including in technological advancement like this,” Priya Goyal, a software engineer at Facebook AI Research, told CNBC.

Sam Shead, “Facebook trains A.I. to ‘see’ using 1 billion public Instagram photos” at CNBC (March 4, 2021)

Stephan thinks users will just shrug and accept the fact that what we put on Facebook is not private — as an alternative to not using the social medium at all:

… “Facebook data represents such a juicy target to hackers that occasional breaches are well-nigh inevitable. Facebook spends enough money on data security to ensure that whatever breaches occur are infrequent enough not to scare most of its users away, and spending a lot more than that would probably cut into their profits severely. The only way to make Facebook perfectly unhackable would be if it had no users at all, and that’s not going to happen any time soon.”

Karl D. Stephan, “In Facebook we trust” at MercatorNet

That said, many of us will want to think twice about putting anything on Facebook or Instagram that could be used to compromise privacy in a way that matters to us. There, you’ve been warned.


You may also wish to read:

Facebook exec admits the company has too much power. He worries, talking with an undercover reporter, that Zuckerberg is 36 and is “the ruler” of two billion people.

Facebook unfriends Australia, blacks out critical news. It started as a trade dispute but the growing power of Big Social Media to impose news blackouts threatens freedom of information, even safety. Perhaps the key question is, how far should government go to “save” legacy mainstream print-based media, given what they have become?

and

Who’s afraid of Facebook? Maybe we should all be more wary. A whistleblower showed that rules are enforced very unevenly. Facebook allows extremist language to flourish in some venues and censors mainstream speech in others. Many don’t realize that Facebook is not acting on its own with (often) one-sided censorship. Big corporations are demanding that Facebook do MORE censorship.


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Fallout From Facebook’s Huge Privacy Hack: A Serious Unfriending