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Five Facebook privacy stories that you may have missed this week

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Facebook is no stranger to privacy issues and new concerns roll in on a weekly basis. And as the social network continues to encourage us to share as much data — publicly — as possible to keep its advertisers and investors happy, it’s important to stay up to date on what’s going on with the platform’s privacy and security settings. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the five Facebook privacy stories that you may have missed this week.

Facebook and your phone number 

Many of us have entered in our phone numbers on Facebook, and didn’t think much of it at the time, but the repercussions are now coming to light. Suriya Prakash, an 18 year old researcher from India, discovered that he was able to identify Facebook users based on a list of phone numbers that he would type into Facebook’s search bar. To expedite the process, he created a spreadsheet of random phone numbers, then developed a script to automate the process of plugging them in and finding their respective owners on Facebook — and he managed to come with nearly 850 users matched with phone numbers. While Facebook has confirmed that there’s a hole in the find-by-phone-number feature and fixed the issue by limiting the number of calls that can be made to Facebook (to prevent large amounts of searches), Prakash insists that the issue still remains. In fact, by using a better algorithm on Facebook’s mobile app (https://m.facebook.com/search/?query=123456789&_rdr) he claims that it would take only a couple of days to download every single Facebook user’s phone number.

If you’re concerned about how easy it is to find your number, there are three ways to protect yourself. For further details you can check out the post by TheNextWeb

  1. Restrict users from seeing your number – You can limit who can or can’t see your number on your profile page. You can find this on your profile page under Update Info -> Contact Info -> Edit. This pops-up a page where you can set your privacy settings for your phone number. Don’t set it to Public.
  2. Limit who can find your number – Anyone can find your number through the search bar unless you take this extra step. Navigate to the top right corner of your page and click on the upside down triangle. Select Privacy Settings, then next How You Connect, select Edit Settings. There’s a drop down list where you can limit the people who can find your email address or phone number to your friends of friends or just your friends.
  3. Delete your phone number – It’s a simple, quick and pain free solution.

MyPageKeeper hunts for social malware on Facebook

facebook spamYou’ve probably encountered a malicious Facebook post at least once, and they’re turning up more and more given the viral effect Open Graph apps have had on the News Feed. Clicking on an intriguing post might just end up sending you to an illicit site or may even automatically share it onto your own Timeline without your knowing it. To prevent users from falling victim to this, University of California Riverside engineers have developed a free Facebook app called MyPageKeeper, which will flag social malware, or “socware,” as it’s called. The app takes just 0.0046 to identify malicious posts and has been found to successfully flag 97 percent of socware. If you’re deliberating the value of this app, you’ll be surprised to learn that the same researchers found that 49 percent of 12,000 test subjects, based on 40 million posts, were exposed to socware at least once within their four months of testing.

Facebook offers $20 million settlement from Sponsored Stories lawsuit to its users 

125 million Facebook users’ profile pictures were used to endorse advertisers’ Sponsored Stories, which, as you can imagine, caused an uproar among privacy advocates. For example if you “liked” an advertiser’s Facebook Page, there’s a chance that you were inadvertently endorsing that company in its Facebook ad unit. The lawsuit concerning Sponsored Stories began back in April 2011, and a judge rejected Facebook’s first settlement offer this August in which the company would pay $10 million to lawyers and $10 million to charities. With Facebook’s second offer announced early this week, the company still wants to pay out $20 million but this time leaving it up to the judge to decide between allowing the affected 125 million Facebook users to collect up to $10 or distributing half of the settlement to charity. Regardless of the lawsuit, Sponsored Stories aren’t going anywhere. Facebook instead agreed to make its terms of service more and management controls more transparent so users can better know and decided if they want to participate in Sponsored Stories.

Facebook’s fight against the over-share

Facebook has made some changes to its Open Graph, which we reported on yesterday, that should decrease the volume of automatically published posts while attempting to keep content quality high. Facebook’s Open Graph will now require developers to choose from a select list of preset custom actions for third-party Facebook apps that publish content to your Timeline and News Feed. It’s a move that provides users a consistent experience by removing custom actions that could be misleading. For example, if you watch a video for at least 10 seconds the developer must publish “Francis watched an episode of ____” to the Timeline, instead of publishing “Francis recommended ____.”

Facebook is also getting rid of authentication referral pop-ups that may request you to automatically share an article that you’ve read through Facebook, as well as the ability for third-party apps to share content to a friend’s Timeline using its API. 

Be careful with what you publish to Facebook

It wouldn’t be a Facebook privacy roundup without reminding you of the fact that the Internet never forgets. Amy Cheong, an Australian living in Singapore, was promptly sacked from her position as the assistant director of membership at the National Trade Union Congress and received threats after publishing a Facebook post attacking Malaysian weddings. Her comment was reportedly posted to her own Facebook profile out of frustration as a Malay wedding in the basement of her apartment complex prevented Cheong from falling asleep, but many took her comment to be racist. For the record, Cheong was born in the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, and moved to Australia at the age of eight before moving to Singapore for work.

Whether her firing is justified or not, it’s a good reminder that you should be careful what you post to Facebook — and that you should keep an eye on that Public, Close Friends, Friends, etc toggle in the status box. 

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