Facebook Under Siege Agan – Privacy and Security Threatened


Waves just keep on coming for Facebook even as it tries to navigate the choppy waters of past calamities breaking heavily on its shores. Tossed about like a cork on the ocean, it barely recovers from one crisis before the next one arrives. The latest storm delivered the breaking news that  6.8 million users, allowing app developers to see photos that users had uploaded but never posted. In the space of a few years, Facebook has gone from being the friendly face of technology to a personal privacy pariah- a villain- and may no longer be viewed in the context of a force for empowering individuals.

Facebook’s Latest Explanation

Paraphrasing a news release from a Facebook staffer’s blog, when someone gives permission for an app to access their photos on Facebook, it usually only grants the app access to photos people share on their timeline. In this latest snafu, this may have affected up to 6.8 million users and up to 1,500 apps. The bug also impacted photos that people uploaded to Facebook but chose not to post. For example, if someone uploads a photo to Facebook but didn’t finish posting it—maybe because they’ve lost reception or walked into a meeting—Facebook stored a copy of that photo so the person had it when they came back to the app to complete their post.

The Official Mea Culpa

Facebook said the bug in its photo API affected a 12-day window between Sept. 13 and Sept. 25 and gave access to up to 1,500 apps built by 876 developers. Facebook said the bug did not affect photos that were shared in Messenger conversations and that Facebook became aware of the bug and fixed it on Sept. 25. In Europe, to comply with the GDPR, it notified the appropriate authorities.

“We’re sorry. Early next week we will be rolling out tools for app developers that will allow them to determine which people using their app might be impacted by this bug. We will be working with those developers to delete the photos from impacted users.”

Facebook’s Other Gaffes

If this was a one-off for the company, it would be much to do about nothing. After all, it “only” affected about 7 million users when other publicized breaches sometimes compromised the data of tens of millions more people. But it was hardly an anomaly for Facebook, was it? By now you’re probably familiar with some of them. So, let’s take a brief look at some of the past problems that have plagued the social media giant.

  • The company came under fire repeatedly for its role in helping spread fake news during the 2016 presidential election. In a related story…
  • In March it was revealed that Cambridge Analyticaimproperly harvested the personal Facebook data of 50 million people in order to profile and target users for political advertisements.
  • A bug in June caused a glitchthat publicly published the posts of 14 million users that were intended to be private.
  • A September security breach saw hackers steal the personal information of 30 million users.

Added to this have been the findings that the company may have “weaponized” the harvested data by allowing political groups on the left and right to abuse the data for their purposes. This really put Facebook in the crosshairs of government investigations—a nasty position in which to be and a situation from which its scape is likely to be painful and prolonged.

Reputation Tattered, Company’s Future Murky

It’s the point about political missteps and government scrutiny that has company insiders as well as industry observers worried. The average person—the user—has a short memory- politicians? Not so much. When the sharks (pols) smell blood in the water, they won’t back off until there is nothing left of the carcass but bone. Every politician needs a villain to pillory –if only to distract attention from his or her own shortcomings.

Fall From Grace, User Disenchantment

How did things unravel so quickly for Facebook which accumulated one of the largest-ever repositories of personal data, a treasure trove of photos, messages and like that propelled the company into the Fortune 500? It probably grew too big, too fast and without internal or external oversight.  Therefore the hate speech, bullying and other toxic content on the platform spiralled out of control and with it went personal privacy concerns over profit motives.

“Facebook emerged as a craze that led people to believe the platform was a life enhancer in terms of social connections and flow of information, broadly considered.  While many people enjoy sharing photos and updates with friends, it turns out the platform gave false hope and expectations on many levels,” said DePauw University professor Jeffrey McCall. “Hanging out on Facebook doesn’t really make us happier and what we learn there might or might not be reliable. Individual privacy has been lost in many regards.”

It’s getting to be old news but once again Facebook failed to keep user data safe and secure. Sure, it is Facebook which messed up this time and they are in the spotlight at the moment. But Internet users should remember the vulnerability of content shared online in any form with any platform. They should also remember that since it’s free, they are the products- a thus commodities—not real people. That’s the only way to view the problem given the apparent disregard of the social media giant for the safety and sanctity of its user’s content.

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