Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Facebook Says Data on Most of Its Two Billion Users Vulnerable

Sarah Frier, Bloomberg:

Facebook Inc. said data on most of its 2 billion users could have been accessed improperly, giving fresh evidence of the ways the social-media giant failed to protect people’s privacy while generating billions of dollars in revenue from the information.

The company said it removed a feature that let users enter phone numbers or email addresses into Facebook’s search tool to find other people. That was being used by malicious actors to scrape public profile information, it said.

Well, yes, of course it was. Facebook is a website that centralizes the conversion of abstract, individual pieces of personal data for over two billion people; that’s a golden opportunity for any data miner.

That’s not just me saying that with hindsight, either. Jeremy Kirk reported on this capability for PC World over four years ago. A couple of years ago, Slawomir Tulski built a proof-of-concept way to match Facebook and LinkedIn profiles using, in part, Facebook search. A quick web search will return dozens of discussions about the possibilities of using Facebook search to scrape profiles. This shouldn’t be the first time the company has realized that creating a powerful search engine for a third of the world’s population could be misused.


Facebook also said data on as many as 87 million people, most of them in the U.S., may have been improperly shared with research firm Cambridge Analytica. This is Facebook’s first official confirmation of the possible scope of the data leak, which was previously estimated at roughly 50 million. It has resulted in calls from legislators and policymakers for greater regulation of social media, helping to shave billion of dollars from the company’s market value.

Like Equifax’s massive breach last year, I’d bet good money that Facebook’s value will return to its previous high within a year or so. There’s simply no lasting consequence for not adequately containing the data of millions or billions of people when the company responsible is as entrenched and as powerful as these giants are.