Five Hidden Dangers of Facebook

A Facebook login page is seen on a computer screen in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada Thursday, August 27, 2009. Facebook is agreeing to give users more control over their information in response to concerns raised by Canadian privacy officials. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Adrian Wyld) AP Photo/Adrian Wyld

Facebook claims it has 400 million users. But are they well-protected from prying eyes, scammers and unwanted marketers?

Not according to Joan Goodchild, senior editor of CSO (Chief Security Officer) Online.

She says your privacy may be at far greater risk of being violated than you know when you log onto Facebook, due to security gaffes or marketing efforts by the company.

Facebook came under fire this week, when 15 privacy and consumer protection organizations filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, charging that the site, among other things, manipulates privacy settings to make users' personal information available for commercial use. Also, some Facebook users found their private chats accessible to everyone on their contact list - a major security breach that's left a lot of people wondering just how secure the site is.

In two words, asserts Goodchild - not very.

On "The Early Show on Saturday Morning," she spotlighted five dangers she says Facebook users expose themselves to, probably without aware of it:

• Your information is being shared with third parties

• Privacy settings revert to a less safe default mode after each redesign

• Facebook ads may contain malware

• Your real friends unknowingly make you vulnerable

• Scammers are creating fake profiles


Is Facebook a secure platform to communicate with your friends?

Here's the thing; Facebook is one of the most popular sites in the world. … Security holes are being found on a regular basis. … It is not as inherently secure as people think it is when they log on every day.

Certainly, there are growing pains. Facebook is considered a young company and it has been around a few years now. It is continuing to figure this out. They are so young they are still trying to figure out how they are going to make money. They don't even have a revenue model yet. It is hard to compare this to others; we have never had this phenomenon before in the way people are communicating with each other - only e-mail comes close.

The potential for crime is real. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, victims of Internet-related crimes lost $559 million in 2009. That was up 110 percent from the previous year. If you're not careful using Facebook, you are looking at the potential for identity theft, or possibly even something like assault if you share information with a dangerous person you think is actually a "friend." One British police agency recently reported the number of crimes they've responded to in the last year involving Facebook climbed 346 percent. These are real threats.

Lately, it seems a week doesn't go by without some new news about a Facebook-related security problem.

Earlier this week, a publication called "TechCrunch" discovered a security hole that made it possible for users to read their friends' private chats. Facebook has since patched it, but who knows how long that flaw existed? Some speculate it may have been that way for years.

Last month, researchers at VeriSign's iDefense group discovered a hacker was selling Facebook user names and passwords in an underground hacker forum. It was estimated he had about 1.5 million accounts - and was selling them for between $25 and $45.

And the site is constantly under attack from hackers trying to spam these 400 million users, or harvest their data, or run other scams. Certainly, there is a lot of criticism in the security community of Facebook's handling of security. Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that the company rarely responds to inquiries.

Do people really have privacy on Facebook?

No. There are all kinds of ways third parties can access information about you. For instance, you may not realize that, when you are playing the popular games on Facebook, such as Farmville, or take those popular quizzes, every time you do that, you authorize an application to be downloaded to your profile that you may not realize gives information to third parties.

Does Facebook share info about users with third parties through things such as Open Graph?

Open Graph is a new concept for them - they unveiled it last week at a conference. It actually is basically a way to share the information in your profile with all kinds of third parties, such as partner websites, so they can have a better idea of your interests and what you are discussing, so they can - as they portray it - "make it a more personal experience."

The theory behind Open Graph - even if they have not implemented it - is their whole business model, isn't it?

Well, that is the business model - they are trying to get you to share as much information as possible so they can monetize it by sharing it with advertisers.

Isn't it in Facebook's best interest to get you to share as much info as possible?

It absolutely is. Facebook's mission is to get you to share as much information as it can so it can share it with advertisers. As it looks now, the more info you share the more they are going to with advertisers and make more money.

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