Socialbots Sneak up on Social Networks

Just when you thought it was safe, a group of students at the University of British Columbia (UBC) proved you wrong. Fears about social network privacy and security have long been on the mind of anyone who has opened an account on a social network, such as Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace. And from time to time stories like this one come up that give our fears credibility. At UBC, four university students managed to collect 250 GB worth of information off Facebook accounts using fake accounts.

The students used something called socialbots, which is software programmed to create authentic-looking Facebook accounts and then adds friends using those accounts. Once the software has added someone, it is programmed to send friend requests to that recently added person’s friends. The programmers created it this way because they realized people are more likely to accept a friend request if it’s sent from someone with shared friends.

Within eight weeks, using 102 Facebook accounts the bots managed to make more than 3,000 friends. Facebook only managed to flag 20 of the fake accounts, mainly due to the accounts being flagged by other users. Facebook does have the Facebook Immunity System, which is supposed to prevent people from creating fake accounts, but it wasn’t effective here.

In response, Facebook has claimed that one of the main reasons the students were as successful as they were was because they initially started this operation with actual university accounts and only later created the bots and added them in. The bots are then usually sold online, but not in this case since they were strictly for research purposes.

This is not the first time that Facebook’s privacy security has been questioned; it has been frequently called out for its privacy policy, which sees new criticisms year after year concerning its guidelines. More recently, Facebook also tested software this summer that would identify users in pictures and tag them without their consent, which also caused an uproar from Facebook users.

Facebook walks on a very tight rope when it comes to privacy, and the only reason it can keep doing this is because it is the go-to social network right now; however, that won’t last forever, and just like MySpace hardly saw its demise coming, Facebook could see itself in a similar position if it doesn’t smarten up and back off users.

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About salamayad

Hey there, I'm Salama Ayad and I'm a student at the University of Oregon in Eugene. I'm majoring in public relations and I'm expecting to graduate in the spring term. I'm from Kuwait, and I came to Eugene in the fall of 2007. I am writing this blog for my J452 class and I hope you enjoy it!
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