Home opinion-and-analysis ShawThing Facebook exposed secret data of more than 6 million (of its 1.1 billion) accounts.

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Over the weekend Facebook quietly fixed a bug that had exposed secret information of over six million users! It is still doing it – it just fixed the bug that exposed this insidious practice…

The so called secret information was in something called a ‘shadow profile’ and it is not information provided to Facebook by its users, rather it comprises a private dossier compiled by Facebook on same without user consent. We do not know what other data it collects, and places, in the dossier.

It was exposed when users tried to download an archive of their account with Facebook's Download Your Information (DYI) tool. It revealed additional information about them and their contacts they were not supposed to have.

Apparently this has been happening for much of 2012 according to respected news source Reuters.

Angry users are concerned that Facebook can no longer be trusted and are demanding to know just what information Facebook has on them and more importantly where it has come from and what it is being used for. Importantly was such information given to the US Government in the so called PRISM project?

According to some very well phrased admissions in its blog, posted late Friday afternoon, Facebook appears to be obtaining users' off-site email address and phone numbers and attempting to match them to other accounts. It appears that the invisible collected information is then being stored in each user's 'shadow profile' that is somehow attached to accounts.

Users were clearly unaware that external data about them was being collected, matched to them, and stored by Facebook.


This is not good. The basic premise of privacy is that an individual should have complete and open access to any and all information held on them. I wonder what would happen if all of Facebook’s 1.1 billion users demanded such a policy or they would leave! Perhaps it is time, and perhaps it is time that Google et all took notice that future business models using personal data against users will not be tollerated no matter how benign it seems.

Facebook may well have done us all a favour in revealing that there is always more behind the smiling visage of these large internet Trojans for advertising.

I am but one voice but note this – Facebook is not a toy or a joy and should not be used to reveal your hopes, dreams and aspirations, let alone anything about you that may facilitate identity theft.

Removal is not easy either – you can deactivate your account but the information remains for all to see. Follow this link to access a form that will permanently and irrevocably delete your account.

I also have misgivings about Linkedin and Google+ but provided you don’t expose personal data then you can probably justify using either as a professional contact mechanism.

The various comments on the Facebook blog share similar sentiments and sum it up adequately – “you scum”.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!