Popular social network, Facebook, has recently come under fire following a series of reports on sex scandals involving minors, phishing and other unscrupulous activities. These reports have removed the illusion most users had of Facebook being a very safe social network.
On 3rd February, there were reports about the presence of thousands of sex offenders on the site. Most of these users had earlier been barred from using MySpace. John Cardillo, who runs Internet security firm Sentinel, says they found 8,487 registered sex offenders on Facebook, using only basic search operations, in just a few days.
Facebook has responded by claiming that the figures are grossly exaggerated, but they have disabled 4,679 accounts that correspond to user IDs flagged by Sentinel “as a precaution”.
The very next day, there was news of a sex ring of at least 31 high school students, using fake IDs to lure and blackmail young users into performing sexual acts.
Facebook’s response to this story seems especially disturbing. They claim that less than 1% of their users are affected by impersonation schemes. With a user base of 150 million it could mean that almost 1.5 million could potentially be affected!
Facebook has tried to mend some fences, by making some changes to the rules and regulations to be followed by users, which could prevent the creation of fake accounts and provision of false information on user profiles. One change specifically states, “If you are required to register as a sex offender in any jurisdiction, you may not use the Facebook service“. It looks as though Facebook is doing what they can to protect their users and their own reputation.
A couple of days later, CNN reported that phishing attacks are thriving on Facebook. Unscrupulous users are gaining access to accounts of other users and then impersonating them to ask their contacts for money.
As a result of these scandals, both Facebook and MySpace, which has faced similar problems, have been reportedly banned from the General Assembly of Computers of Maryland. And this could be just the start of their problems. In the past, Google’s social network, Orkut, almost got banned by the government of Brazil until Google was forced to cooperate and reveal user information to help stop the propogation of child pornography.
The perception that Facebook is a safe social network, due to their strict policies, has started crumbling due to the rapidity of its own growth.
In order to keep pace with their growth, Facebook will have to invest heavily in manpower and technology to keep out undesirable elements of society and safeguard their reputation. However, even with the best of efforts it may never be possible to be 100% secure again.