Looks like they forgot to close the privacy curtains over at Facebook headquarters. Today TechCrunch’s Steve O’Hear reported a gaping hole in social giant Facebook’s information security. It appears that with a few simple mouse clicks, members were able to view their friends’ private chats, friend requests, and a list of friends they have in common.
The Irony of it All
As paradoxical as it seems, it’s an unsecure path through the Facebook Privacy settings that allowed us to view this so called ‘private’ user information. TechCrunch reported the problem to Facebook and shared a demo video with their audience this morning, walking us step by step through the security gap.
The Facebook Response
Facebook responded around 11am by taking down the entire chat system until the security breach can be fixed, posting the following as the intro on their home page:
Social or Scary?
Recent changes in the way the second largest website on the internet shares information have been making people very nervous already, from U.S. Senators to privacy monitoring agencies to the individual user.
And Facebook is not alone in raising fears. The launch of Google Buzz a couple of months ago had customers in an uproar over security problems. Google set up Gmail users with ready-made followers and people to follow pulled directly from email contacts. These were made public to anyone who viewed the profile. While Google responded quickly to the outcry, it left a sore feeling which overshadowed the launch of this long awaited social site.
Some Unsettling Scenarios
Let’s hope that the mega sites have learned what these privacy breaches do to the public’s comfort level. Here are a few easily imagined situations that can arise from these security breaches, and they should make us sit up and pay attention:
- If anyone you know can view your Private Chat and who your friends are, why can’t the government? Is Big Brother watching?
- Your boss at the agency sees you are emailing the VP at the rival firm.
- Your wife sees you’ve invited your ex-fiance to become a ‘friend’ on Facebook.
- Your new business backer sees you chatting with your bookie about a bet on the next race.
- Or maybe…you just don’t want everyone to know your business.
Big potential for relationship problems and even employment or legal issues.
It seems lately Freedom of Information is coming at the cost of the Right to Privacy…are we so naive in wanting both…or are we just hopeful? It’s certainly a balance worth striving for; let’s see if the social giants can learn from these recent problems and help us to get there.