Tag Archives: Facebook

Facebook Portal Will Spy On You After All

As reported by Recode, and with a small dose of “Told you so“, Facebook has clarified that it will spy on you using its new Portal devices after all.

In an email sent to Recode, Facebook said, “Portal voice calling is built on the Messenger infrastructure, so when you make a video call on Portal, we collect the same types of information (i.e. usage data such as length of calls, frequency of calls) that we collect on other Messenger-enabled devices. We may use this information to inform the ads we show you across our platforms. Other general usage data, such as aggregate usage of apps, etc., may also feed into the information that we use to serve ads.

I don’t have to put up with this kind of privacy abuse when I use my landline or my smartphone to make a voice call. Why should it be acceptable at all just because it’s a video call?

Imagine I phoned a retailer using their toll-free number and then I was phoned a few days later by a competitor, perhaps offering a discount. The phone company had sold my phone number to the competitor on the basis of the original call. Now, I’m fairly sure that would be flat out illegal in most countries – I’m not a lawyer but I’m pretty sure in Europe the GDPR regulations would stop that – but here we are with Facebook potentially showing us ads on the basis of who we talk to. This is just wrong, wrong, wrong.

I am increasingly of the opinion that these social media giants need regulation to ensure our rights are maintained. Keeping private both conversations, and the data about conversations, would be a very good place to start.

Facebook Says Private Information was Stolen

Facebook revealed more information about the security issue that affected the privacy of many Facebook user’s information. The update provided by Facebook includes unsettling news.

Facebook now says that out of the 50 million people whose access tokens were affected by the security issue, they believe that about 30 million people actually had their tokens stolen. I’m not sure if Facebook thought this news would be reassuring – but it obviously isn’t. The additional details provided by Facebook aren’t good news, either.

For 15 million people, attackers accessed two sets of information – name and contact details (phone number, email, or both, depending on what people had in their profiles). For 14 million people, the attackers accessed the same two sets of information, as well as other details people had on their profiles.

The “other details” included information such as: username, gender, locale/language, relationship status, religion, hometown, self-reported current city, birthdate, device types used to access Facebook, education, work, the last 10 places they checked into or were tagged in, website, people or Pages they follow, and the 15 most recent searches.

Facebook also said for 1 million people who were affected by the data breach, “the attackers did not access any information”.

This is a very big deal! Some of the information that was stolen is used in security questions on things like bank accounts, credit cards, and to access a person’s health information. Facebook can’t fix this. Personally, I would not be surprised if this awful situation results in a massive number of people deleting their Facebook accounts.

Image from Pixabay

Facebook Removed Multiple Pages and Accounts for Political Spam

Facebook announced today that it removed 559 Pages and 251 accounts “that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior”. The post was written by Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy Nathaniel Gleicher and Project Manager Oscar Rodriguez.

The behaviors that caused Facebook to remove 559 Pages and 251 accounts are not new. Facebook says that this type of spam is often used to “hawk fraudulent products like fake sunglasses or weight loss ‘remedies’.” It can also be celebrity gossip.

Today, Facebook says it is seeing these networks “increasingly use sensational political content – regardless of its political slant – to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites, earning money for every visitor to the site.” Facebook pointed out:

This is why it’s so important we look at these actors’ behavior – such as whether they’re using fake accounts or repeatedly posting spam – rather than their content when deciding which of these accounts, Pages, or Groups to remove.

Facebook has every right to remove Pages and accounts that violate their rules. Personally, I think Facebook could have made more of an impact if they removed the spammers earlier, instead of a few weeks before the United States midterm elections. The damage caused by spreading misinformation has already been done.

It’s good that Facebook attempted to clarify that the Pages and accounts were removed because of their behaviors. Even so, I believe there will be individuals who spend today filling their social media accounts with accusations that Facebook is biased against their preferred political party.

Facebook Opens the Door to your Home with Portal

Facebook today announced its entry into the video calling market with Portal.
Facebook today announced its entry into your home…

With two models in the range, the smaller Portal goes up against the Echo Show, and a larger Portal+ brings a new form factor to the market. The former has a landscape 10″ screen with the latter plus model rocking a 15.6″ screen that rotates between landscape and portrait orientations.

Facebook’s track record in hardware isn’t great. Remember the Facebook phone, aka HTC First? No, you probably don’t so it’s good to see that both devices are well-designed and look a whole pile better than the original Show.

Having said that, they don’t actually do much other than video chat and media, such as Spotify and displaying photos from Facebook. Amazingly, there’s no Facebook app itself. Amazon’s Alexa is built-in, so all her skills are available to make up for some of the deficit. Friends and family don’t need another Portal to chat and can use Facebook Messenger to take the call.

Facebook goes to great pains to emphasise “privacy by design” and that the camera and microphone can be turned off. Facebook assures us that “Facebook doesn’t listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Your conversations stay between you and the people you’re calling.” I still don’t trust Facebook and this device is in your home listening (“Hey Portal”) all the time.

Facebook goes on to say, “For added security, Smart Camera uses AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera does not use facial recognition and does not identify who you are.” If you are reassured by this, good for you. If not, there is a button on the top of the unit which, when pressed, will physically disconnect the microphone and camera.

Let’s not forget Facebook has a very poor track record on security and the abuse of personal information. Where shall we start?
Cambridge Analytica
50 Million Accounts Breached
Using 2FA phone numbers for advertising

I think Facebook have made a mistake, pairing the Facebook brand with Portal. My advice would have been to do “Portal from WhatsApp” and majored on the security features of WhatsApp and end-to-end encryption. Facebook might own WhatsApp, but I would have had far fewer concerns if Portal had come from the WhatsApp team.

If you want buy one, pre-orders are open with the Portal is priced at US$199 and the Portal+ comes in at $349. There’s a special offer on buying two Portals with $100 off. Pre-order here with deliveries expected in November. US only at the moment.

Facebook Security Issue Affected 50 Million Accounts

It happened again. Facebook has had yet another security issue that affected the privacy of its users information. This time, the problem affected 50 million accounts. Facebook says that the security issue occurred because of a combination of three bugs.

In short, the newest security issue involved the View As feature, which allows users to take a look at their profile the way someone else would see it. It is supposed to be a view-only feature.

The security issue also involved a composer that enables people to wish their friend a happy birthday. And, Facebook’s new version of their video uploader was generating tokens – not for the user – but for the user that someone was looking up.

Facebook says it has turned off the View As look up and reset the tokens. But, it’s already too late.

The access tokens enabled someone – Facebook says it doesn’t know who – to access the personal data on the accounts they hacked. As far as I can tell, Facebook doesn’t appear to know for certain if the hacker took that personal information, but I think it is likely that they did. Why else would someone go through the trouble?

The thing about this that bothers me the most is that the features involved in this privacy issue were all created by Facebook. These are features they have complete control over. To me, it feels like Facebook just doesn’t care very much about ensuring that what people put on Facebook is secure.

This is something to keep in mind if and when Facebook Dating is released in the country that you live in. Those who choose to use Facebook Dating need to realize that it probably won’t be any more secure than Facebook itself.

Image from Pixabay

Facebook Dating has Launched in Columbia

Facebook has launched Facebook Dating in Colombia. One can assume that it will roll out to other countries eventually if the test goes well.

In my opinion, Facebook Dating is an attempt by Facebook to attract younger users. In February of 2018, The Guardian reported that teens and young adults were leaving Facebook (in favor of Snapchat and other forms of social media). At the same time, Facebook’s popularity surged among people who were over the age of 55.

I also think that the addition of Facebook Dating is a way for Facebook to entice current users to stay in Facebook’s “walled garden”. Assuming the test of Facebook Dating is successful, Facebook users won’t necessarily have to leave Facebook in order to make use of a dating app made by some other company.

According to TechCrunch, Facebook Dating will be opt-in. Users who are 18 or older will get a notice at the top of their News Feed that invites them to try Facebook Dating (when it comes to their country). Right now, Facebook Dating is mobile-only and is bundled into Facebook’s main iOS and Android apps.

Users who choose to opt-in can verify their city using their phone’s location services. They can decide if they want to add information like a bio, workplace, education, religion, height, and if they have children. According to TechCrunch, Facebook Dating offers non-binary genders and sexual orientations.

I guess it comes down to how much additional information someone wants to give to Facebook. It’s obvious that Facebook is going to use that data in some way. How certain are you that Facebook will be able to keep the personal messages you send through Facebook Dating private and secure?

Image from Pixabay

Facebook’s Rosetta Can Understand Text in Images

Facebook has created and deployed a large-scale machine learning system named Rosetta. It can extract text from more than a billion public Facebook and Instagram images and video frames, in a wide variety of languages.

This is excellent news for people who use screenreaders, because it will make the text in images, videos, and memes understandable for people who are blind or visually impaired. I applaud Facebook’s initiative to make the internet more accessible for people who have vision issues.

In addition, Rosetta will be able to not only understand the text in images but also the context in which that text appears. Rosetta can extract text daily, and in real time, and input it to a text recognition model that has been trained on classifiers to understand the context of the text and the image together.

That means Rosetta is a tool that can help Facebook’s systems proactively identify inappropriate or harmful content. In other words, it will be able to identify the difference between an image that first appears harmless and one that includes text that violates Facebook and Instagram’s hate-speech policy.

Personally, I think Rosetta has wonderful potential not only for helping those who are visually impaired to understand what is in a particular image or video, but also to help clean up Facebook and Instagram.

My hope is that Rosetta will be able to identify that an otherwise uncontroversial image (such as a woman standing in a field, or a photo of a gorilla) includes text that is hate-speech. Ideally, this will lead to a quicker removal of hate speech, and make Facebook a kinder place for all of its users.