Up until recently, concerns over Facebook’s privacy settings and policies have been largely hypothetical, but that all changed today when Ron Bowes, an internet security consultant, uploaded a torrent to the web with personal information on 100 million users. Facebook has come under severe scrutiny in recent months for holes in their privacy settings and policies, and this recent divulgence of data exemplifies the amount of personal information that many Facebook accounts make readily available.
It should be noted that Bowes simply used information that was already open to the public by only including searchable Facebook profiles. So the information in his list could be acquired through a simple search engine query. The purpose of releasing the information was to raise people’s awareness of how much personal information they make available online, Bowes said.
The file Bowes compiled allows you to perform several different types of searches to find specified information. Theoretically, the people whose information is included in the file have no right to be angry, as they made the decision to make their personal information available on the internet to users around the world. But since the data is now in a file, even if the people change their security settings at a later date, their information is still easy for anyone to download.
“Facebook helpfully informs you that “[a]nyone can opt out of appearing here by changing their Search privacy settings” — but that doesn’t help much anymore considering I already have them all (and you will too, when you download the torrent). Suckers!” Bowes wrote on his website.
This compilation of personal information into a discrete, searchable file may lead many to rethink how they view social networks, including the companies themselves, which Bowes claims was one of his goals.
“Facebook should have anticipated this attack and put measures in place to prevent it,” Bowes said in an interview with the BBC. “It is inconceivable that a firm with hundreds of engineers couldn’t have imagined a trawl of this magnitude and there’s an argument to be heard that Facebook have acted with negligence.”
Bowes maintains his own website, www.SkullSecurity.org, but the file was uploaded to the controversial torrent site Pirate Bay.
“It occurred to me that this is public information that Facebook puts out, I’m assuming for search engines or whatever, and that it wouldn’t be right for me to keep it private,” Bowes wrote.