The Social Media Site Facebook Computer Science Essay

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Facebook is a household name and to say the least, it has come to stay and become part of the lives of millions of individuals across the globe. Facebook is a social networking website with more than 400 million active users, each with an average 130 friends. Facebook statistics reports that they are more than 25 billion pieces of content (photo albums, news stories, web links, blog posts, notes etc) shared each month, with its users spending above 500 billion minutes per month on Facebook. Facebook with all its popularity has not be left out from controversies, arising mainly from security and privacy issues. Users of Facebook share a wide variety of information, however many of these users do not have a good grasp of the privacy implications, and there exist many ill-thinking individuals (criminals and their likewise) seeking to take advantage and make gain out of this abundance of information.

Social Networking has been attributed to the way the 21st century communicates today [1]. What we are interested in knowing is what it really means? Simply put, Social networking is the practice of increasing the number of one's business and/or social contacts by creating connections through individuals [2]. While social networking has been going on almost as long as societies have been in existence, the unparalleled potential of the Internet to advance such connections is only now being fully recognized and exploited, through Web-based groups established for that purpose. Social networking websites such as Bebo, Facebook, and MySpace have attracted millions of users, many of whom have integrated these websites into their daily practices [3]. What makes social networking websites unique is that they enable their users to articulate and make visible their social networks. This can amount to connections between individuals that would not otherwise be made, and these meetings are frequently between individuals who share some offline connection. Thus, the public display of connections is a critical component of social networking websites.

1.2 Facebook ¿½ King of all Social Networking Websites

It would almost be impossible, if not, to talk about social networking without making mention of Facebook. Facebook is the world¿½s biggest social network [4] and ranked the most used social network with active users worldwide. It was founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, along with his fellow computer science students and college roommates [5]. Users of Facebook can add people as friends and send them messages; they can update their personal profiles to notify friends about themselves. Additionally, Facebook users can join networks organized by school, college or workplace. The website currently has over 400 million active users worldwide [6].

This paper begins by looking at what social networking is about, and then it takes a brief look at Facebook. It then goes into looking at security risk and privacy concerns with Facebook. Thereafter, it looks at the controversial Terms of Service of Facebook, followed by Facebook frequent redesigns and data mining concerns of Facebook. Afterwards, it then looks at notable controversial incidents on Facebook and then provides safety tips on ways to stay secure in Facebook and the social networking world at large.

2. Security Risk with Facebook

With more than 400 million people using Facebook, and more people joining each day, so are more and more ill thinking individuals and criminals seeking to make their gain. These criminals see Facebook as valuable source for profit and information. They are attracted to large groups, and social networking happens to be a gold mine for infection vectors, if the criminal¿½s intention is to spread malware, or information gathering if the intension is to buy and sell information [7]. Facebook in time past has witnessed malware attacks, which spread through malicious links or applications, phishing scams, which again spread through applications and posted links, as well as common robbery, where individuals are tricked into sending money to someone pretending to be a friend [7].

Notably out of these malware attacks was the Koobface virus which struck March of last year, its initial strike being December of 2008. It was reported by PCWorld Magazine as [8]: ¿½Facebook Virus Turns Your Computer into a Zombie¿½. The Koobface was actually a computer worm that spreads by delivering Facebook messages to people who are 'friends' of a Facebook user and whose computer has already been infected. When the message is received, it would direct the recipients to a third-party website, where they are prompted to download what is supposed to be an update of the Adobe Flash player. If the message receiver downloads and executes the file, Koobface would then be able to infect their system. It then captures control of the computer's search engine use and gives direction to contaminated websites. They can also exist as links to the third-party website on the Facebook wall of the friend the message came from, sometimes having comments like YOUTUBE or LOL. When this link is opened by clicking on it, the trojan virus will infect the computer and the PC will become a zombie or host computer [9]. Koobface ultimately attempts, upon successful infection, to gather sensitive information from the victims such as credit card numbers. Koobface is amongst one of numerous malware attacks that has hit the most renowned social networking website.

3. Privacy Concerns with Facebook

Facebook has grave privacy issues; this is to say the least. This is hinged on two main facts and they are: users are not guarded about who sees their information, and users are not well or fully informed about Facebook¿½s Terms of Service and the Privacy Policy. A lot of Facebook users have their personal information open to the public for which they are not aware of. And even with the bunch of users who are aware of the basic protections, the knowledge to manage the advanced features in Facebook is not present. To compound issues even more is that Facebook keep having its privacy policies updated and these frequent redesigns resets the privacy settings of each user¿½s account in Facebook.

The issue might not be Facebook privacy per se, but rather that the huge majority of Facebook users simply don¿½t grasp the concept of privacy. Even with the new and improved Facebook privacy features, how many of the over 400 million Facebook users really and truly care about privacy? How many have taken the time to comprehend the nitty-gritty of what it means or of what they need to do? This brief statistics might tell of where users¿½ interest lies in. A YouTube video of a woman pulling her kid on the floor through a Verizon store has gotten more than 750,000 views as I presently write. Whereas another video on YouTube titled Information Security and Social Networks is merely above 1,500 views. As of mid-June this year, only 7,539 of Facebook users have liked the official Facebook and Privacy page -- 7,539 is but 0.000018% of Facebook users, who care less about banging down the privacy door. In other words, a very small amount of Facebook users seem to truly care about privacy [10]. Ben Rothke, the writer of the article: The Facebook Privacy Paradox; caps it up with this statement ¿½ ¿½if scary messages from the Surgeon General can¿½t get people to quit smoking, do you really think that the Facebook Privacy Policy (currently more than 5,700 words long), will scare them straight about the dangers of inappropriate wall posts?¿½ [10]

The count keep increasing of individuals who were fired as a result of inappropriate Facebook postings, who could not secure a job or were refused a position after their prospective employers saw what they considered inappropriate on their Facebook wall, or students who were suspended or expelled from school as a result of inappropriate Facebook postings, or the many relationships (marriages, engagements, friendships) severed all as a result of Facebook pictures, comments, postings, which most were thought to be private but ended up becoming the glare of the entire public. To lay this issue to rest was a survey carried out a couple of years ago on the concerns of users about Facebook privacy. As a whole, the survey respondents expressly indicated low concern for Facebook's privacy policies. Of 329 people who responded, 76 (23%) were not concerned with Facebook privacy, 117 (35.5%) were barely concerned, 104 (31.6%) were somewhat concerned, 20 (6.1%) were quite concerned, and just 12 (3.6%) were very concerned [11].

To sound off a quick note is that Facebook gets a huge amount of traffic from displaying user profiles in search engines such as Google. Not all of the user profile details are displayed though. The information displayed presently in the search profile is limited to: your profile picture, a link to add you as a friend, a list of your friends, a link to send you a message, and a list of up to roughly 20 fan pages that you are a member of [12]. Interestingly or amazingly, some users are still not aware about the above information being easily pulled up from a simple Google engine search, as they have never taken the time to hit the enter key with their names typed in the text box for a search engine. For those who know and feel uncomfortable about it, the way out is to uncheck the box for Public Search Listing in the search privacy settings page. However, for some individuals, being displayed in the search engines is a great way to let people get in contact with them, especially if they don¿½t have an existing website. Facebook tends to rank high in the search results, so if someone wants to be easily found, being available in the public listing of Facebook is a great idea. Many people do not want any of their information to be public spectacle though.

4. The Controversial ¿½Terms of Service¿½ of Facebook

Facebook¿½s terms of service or terms of use has not been left without numerous controversies. It has made users and non-users alike to arrive at the notion that Facebook does not have their best interest at heart and thus would not take the adequate steps in protecting their privacy. Tom Eston, creator of the website points out that behind the very core business model of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, is making user information as public as possible in order to generate new methods to make money. "Their philosophy is the more you share, the more information they have to make money with [13]."

Facebook is known to make changes to its terms of use, and the change of February 4, 2009 really caught attention in a manner not too appealing. A blogger by the name of Chris Walters first observed it and complained that the change gave Facebook the right to ¿½Do anything they want with your content. Forever. [14]¿½. The section under the most controversy was the "User Content Posted on the Site" clause. Before the changes, the clause read, "You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content. [15]¿½ The "license granted" refers to the license that Facebook has to your "name, likeness, and image" to use in promotions and external advertising. The new terms of service removed the clause that states the license would "automatically expire" if a user chose to remove content. By leaving out this line, Facebook license extends to adopt users' content forever and irrevocably years after the content has been removed [16].

A large number of Facebook users aired their opinions against the changes in the terms of service of Facebook, which led to an Internet-wide debate over the ownership of content. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) got in the matter and prepared a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Many people were frustrated with the deletion of the controversial phrase. To restore calm and reduce criticism, Facebook had to return to its original terms of service. However, Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, on February 17, 2009, wrote in his blog, that even though Facebook changed back to its original terms of service, it was in the process of developing new terms in order to address the privacy problem. Zuckerberg stated that these new terms will allow Facebook users to ¿½share and control their information and it will be written clearly in language everyone can understand [17].¿½

5. Facebook Frequent Redesigns

Facebook is not only known to be the most popular social networking website, it is also known for its constant redesigns which affect the privacy settings. It seems like just when users are about to figure out the privacy settings on Facebook, they go ahead and change them again. Top of its controversial redesigns was in November 2009. Facebook issued a proposed new privacy policy, and adopted it unchanged in the following month. They combined this with a rollout of new privacy settings. This new policy made certain information, including "lists of friends", to be "publicly available", with no privacy settings; it was earlier possible to keep access to this information restricted. As a result of this change, the users who had set their "list of friends" as private were forced to make it public without even being told, and the option to make it private again was deleted [18].

This action was tagged as the Facebook's Great Betrayal, [19] forcing its users¿½ profile photos and friends lists to be made available and visible in users' public listing, even for users who had earlier explicitly chosen to hide this information [20], and making photos and personal information public except users were proactive enough in limiting this access [21].Take for instance, a user whose "Family and Relationships" information was set to be viewable by "Friends Only" would default to being viewable by "Everyone" (publicly viewable). That is, information such as relationship status, the sex preference of partner you are interested in, and family relations became viewable to those even without a Facebook account. Facebook was massively criticized for both reducing its users' privacy and pushing users to remove privacy protections [22]. The Electronic Frontier Foundation [23] and American Civil Liberties Union [24] were amongst groups that criticized Facebook for making these changes. Defending the changes, founder Mark Zuckerberg said "we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it. [25]"

6. Data Mining Concerns of Facebook

There have been some concerns expressed concerning the use of Facebook as a means of data mining and surveillance. According to Facebook policy which states that [26]: "We may use information about you that we collect from other sources, including but not limited to newspapers and Internet sources such as blogs, instant messaging services and other users of Facebook, to supplement your profile."

The possibility of data mining by private individuals not affiliated with Facebook remains open, as witnessed by the fact that two MIT students were able to download, using an automated script, over 70,000 Facebook profiles from four schools (Harvard, University of Oklahoma, MIT and NYU) as part of their research project on Facebook privacy published on December 14, 2005 [11].

The second phrase that warranted criticism from some users was the reserved right to sell users' data to private companies, the phrase stated as follows: "We may share your information with third parties, including responsible companies with which we have a relationship." Although Facebook claimed that they have never provided users' information to third party companies, and neither do they intend to, the phrase still did not sit well with many users; and eventually Facebook removed this phrase from their privacy policy when it was updated in November 26th, 2008.

7. Notable Controversial Incidents on Facebook

7.1 Israeli Soldier Posts Details of Planned West Bank Raid on Facebook

This incident happened early March this year when an Israeli combat soldiers posted information about a planned operation, including the time and place on Facebook. "On Wednesday, we are cleaning up Qatanah, and on Thursday, God willing, we will be home." Well, what did this result to? The division commander had to cancel the operation out of concern that the information had reached hostile groups and would harm IDF forces. To serve as a reprimand, the soldier was sentenced to 10 days imprisonment and was removed from his battalion and all combat postings. [27]

7.2 Five Nurses fired for Facebook postings

Around mid June this year, five California nurses were fired after allegedly discussing patients on Facebook. These nurses, who worked at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside, lost their jobs after an internal investigation and three weeks of administrative leave. While no details of the incident have been revealed, the CEO of Tri-City Medical Center has said that no patient names, photos or identifying information were included in the posts. My guess is that the thrill and excitement of Facebook made them forget the existence of HIPPA, which strictly enforces patient privacy and confidentiality. But they are not the first to do something of that silly nature. In 2009, two Wisconsin nurses were fired after they took photos of a patient¿½s X-ray and allegedly posted it to Facebook. [28]

7.3 Clickjacking Worm induces Thousands of Facebook Users to "Like" Infected Websites

In early June this year, a "Clickjacking" worm appeared in the scene, and it exploited a vulnerability in web browsers used to access the victim's Facebook account. While the victim is logged in to Facebook, his or her account will spontaneously "Like" web links with titles such as "LOL This girl gets OWNED after POLICE OFFICER reads her STATUS MESSAGE." As a result, a user's Facebook friends are encouraged to visit the sites. Clicking the link will take users to a website that states "Click here to continue" and clicking the message apparently causes subsequent users' accounts to begin the same automatic referrals to their friends. [29]

7.4 Blogger Shows How to Listen in On Private Facebook Chat

On May 5th, 2010, Facebook had to take down its Chat services to patch a flaw in Facebook's new privacy settings that allowed users to listen in on private chat conversations. This occurred when Steve O'Hear, a TechCrunch EU blogger taught the world how to exploit the flaw in his TechCrunch post and video. O'Hear made it known that there was a serious security flaw in the Facebook website and with just some few mouse clicks, any user can view the live chats of their friends. Facebook launched its Facebook Chat feature in February of last year. The service allowed users to send live or instant text messages to other Facebook users on their "Friends" list. The flaw apparently allowed users to eavesdrop on messages or conversations of other friends, as well as see other private information about friends' Facebook accounts. [30]

7.5 Lawsuit against Blockbuster for Making Video Rental Information Available to Facebook Users

In April of 2009, a federal district court issued a decision that keeps alive a woman's suit against Blockbuster and the way it renders information to Facebook. The case was brought as a class action under the Video Privacy Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. s. 2710. According to the court's opinion, ¿½Blockbuster entered into an agreement with Facebook which caused the movie rental choices of Blockbuster online's customers to be sent to Facebook, which would then broadcast those choices to the customer's Facebook friends.¿½ The plaintiff claimed this violates that Video Privacy Protection Act, a law which prohibits a videotape service provider from knowingly disclosing personally identifiable information concerning any customer of the provider unless the customer gives informed, written consent at the time the disclosure was sought. [31]

7.6 Job Requires Applicants to Provide Usernames and Passwords to Facebook Accounts

It was June last year, the City of Bozeman, Montana went about a new route in its job application. They asked and required municipal job seekers to make known their usernames and passwords for popular social networking websites. This action immediately received widespread criticism. Specifically, Bozeman asked applicants to "Please list any and all, current personal or business websites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo,, MySpace, etc." As a result of media exposure, Bozeman then decided to discontinue its practice of reviewing candidate¿½s password protected internet information until the City conducted a more comprehensive evaluation of the practice. On June 19, 2009, the city manager by the name of Chris Kukulski, officially apologized for the intrusive application, stating ¿½the extent of our request for a candidate¿½s password, user name, or other internet information appears to have exceeded that which is acceptable to our community.¿½ [32]

8. Safety Tips for Facebook Security and Privacy and Social Networks

Presented here are some tips that would help create some measure of safety when using Facebook and social networking websites at large [7] [33].

¿½ After creating an account in any social networking website, do not rush into the activities of posting materials. Take time in setting appropriate privacy and security defaults. Remember, Facebook default is viewable by everyone. Also, choose a complex or unique password for your account.

¿½ Make conscious effort to change your Facebook password on a regular basis. Avoid completely using a password that is of close resemblance to or an exact match of a password used for financial transactions online (banking, PayPal, Google checkout etc.), nor should the password be the same as any email account.

¿½ Exercise caution when installing third-party applications. Do not install applications from sources you don¿½t trust.

¿½ Learn to be observant especially when clicking on links that are reported to belong to Facebook. Looks can deceive, so never go by looks alone. Always make sure that the URL is and not something that looks like Also note that Facebook does not run from a sub-domain or within another domains directory.

¿½ Avoid accepting friend requests from people you don¿½t know directly.

¿½ Make and take time to read the privacy policy and terms of service carefully. Limit personal information you share.

¿½ Be wise, sensitive and careful on what you post. Consider all information and pictures posted as public!

¿½ Always check permission levels for anything posted and ensure that they are aligned correctly with the settings from your profile privacy.

¿½ Learn the privacy option of blocking some users or friends from your Facebook account. This would be helpful in dealing with stalkers, spammers and harassments. And there is also an option of reporting an individual at [email protected]

9. Conclusion

Social networking websites have not only become a vital part of our social lives, but are now also a vital part of many sales and marketing strategies. Thus, they cannot be ignored; neither can they be blocked out. However, at the same time, we they cannot fall victims of security and privacy issues, as well allow it to exhaust company resources or be used as a mean of malware penetration or data loss. A combined strategy of providing sensible, granular access control, data monitoring and secure encryption, and comprehensive malware protection is compulsory for individuals and businesses to operate flexibly in the modern world of social networking [34].