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The Ugly Side of Facebook’s Privacy Failures

October 29th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Last week I talked about how I feel that Facebook’s privacy issues are difficult if not impossible to understand from a technical perspective. Now let’s examine them from a public policy perspective.

Suppose I were aware that Facebook has privacy issues? Also suppose I wanted to find a few groups of people associated with causes that I either opposed or supported. Understanding Facebook’s advertising system it’s easy to gather some information:

Targeting the NRA: Using Facebook’s advertising system I decided to run an ad in Biloxi Mississippi seeking Males between 18 and 30 years old who like; NRA, NRArmy, NRAS american hunter official, friends of the NRA, or guns. These people have listed in their Facebook profiles that they like these items. The result is about 100 people, most likely even less.

ACLU friends in BerkeleyTargeting the ACLU: Using Facebook’s ad system again I changed my criteria to Berkeley California, Males between 18 and 30 who like the ACLU, ACLU Northern California.

Run the Ads: The next step would be to write some enticing ads like:

Free Ammo
All new 1st Time customers
30 rounds on us, click here!

Fox News & the FCC
Special report on Fox News FCC
Violations and what you can do.

Now knowing that Facebook will send me information on exactly who these people are I can just run my ads and wait for the information to come in. If you don’t think this is an issue then substitute your home town and your religion or ethnic group for the likes listed above. You will quickly see how these privacy issues can be very dangerous.

Here is an excellent post describing the technical details of the Facebook privacy breach in May 2010. Notice the similarity of this privacy breach in May and the one now in October. They didn’t really fix anything.

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