Facebook adds to privacy concerns with public phone number database - The UpStream

Facebook adds to privacy concerns with public phone number database

posted Saturday Sep 7, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Facebook adds to privacy concerns with public phone number database

It wouldn't be a week on the internet if Facebook hadn't created a scenario in which consumer and governmental trust in their handling of data weren't called into question. This week's example of bad decision making comes in the form of a database of user phone numbers, made available via an unsecured cloud database. To make matters worse, this was not the only version of this database made available, as Facebook had already taken down a similar database of phone numbers.

The database was not created or uploaded by Facebook but was generated using Facebook's platform. Using a former feature which allowed Facebook users to find their friends based on phone numbers, someone was able to download a ton of data and, against the Facebook terms of service, store that data off-platform. However, as the company learned during the Cambridge Analytica scandal, nefarious actors simply don't follow the rules, no matter what the scenario. In other words, if the data is made available, people will take advantage of it and use it for their gains. Instagram also had a similar issue recently, showing just how little the company learns from its mistakes.

The scope of this data leak, however, makes the size and scope of Cambridge Analytica and Instagram look insignificant. The database represents the phone numbers of 419 million users, while Cambridge Analytica only affected 87 million users. That represents a 400%, or 5x, increase in the number of users affected by the leak. To add insult to injury, most of the phone numbers are either directly linked to usernames, full names, gender, and country, or can easily be linked using the identifiers present. If you've been annoyed by telemarketers calling your cell phone lately, expect it to only get worse with this leak. You're not going to escape those "extended warranty" calls any time soon.


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