Hackers pick up where Facebook privacy leaves off

Jul 31, 2010 by Glenn Chapman
The logo of social networking website 'Facebook' is displayed on a computer screen in London. Hackers are weighing in on the Facebook privacy controversy with creations that help people strengthen privacy or empty profile pages at the world's leading social networking service.

Hackers are weighing in on the Facebook privacy controversy with creations that help people strengthen privacy or empty profile pages at the world's leading social networking service.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) technology fellow Chris Conley showed off an arsenal of such applications at the infamous DefCon gathering, which kicked off Friday in Las Vegas.

"They are needed because people don't have control of their and don't really understand," Conley said after the presentation.

"They give people options."

A program written by Conley displays pictures, posts, or other profile data being accessed by applications at accounts. People can then see what personal information programs are gleaning from their pages.

News stories about privacy control issues at Facebook may slip people's minds by the time they sit down at their computers, but Conley's application grabs their attention with a winning subject -- themselves.

"People love to hear about themselves, that is the thing that Facebook is great at," said Ceren Ercen, who worked briefly for the California company and wore a T-shirt bearing the words "Disgruntled Facebook ex-employee."

"People don't have the attention spans to carry over concerns they have to actual Facebook usage."

Ercen added that during her brief stint at Facebook she had "serious problems" regarding the privacy of users and that she wasn't alone.

Applications shared by Conley included a software tool that helps people change Facebook using simple color coding to demystify the process.

Other programs let people pack-up Facebook profile data in order to take it elsewhere or stop the getting automated feedback about where members go elsewhere on the Internet.

"The long-term goal is they should become obsolete because Facebook has addressed this in some way," Conley said. "We would like Facebook to be doing this."

Conley's application, available online, at dotrights.org has been used by 150,000 people.

"I think people don't see the real potential damage of their information going out the door," a DefCon veteran who asked not to be named said after attending Conley's presentation.

Facebook this week launched a Web page devoted to staying safe on the Internet.

The "Safety Page" highlights news and initiatives focused on ways people can keep data secure at the social-networking community.

The new page augments a virtual Safety Center that Facebook introduced in April and was based on a "security page" that boasted more than 2.2 million "fans."

The number of people using Facebook recently topped the 500 million mark, meaning one in every 14 people on the planet has now signed up to the social network.

The launch of the Safety Page came in the wake of demands by the ACLU and other privacy activists and governments that Facebook give users more control over the use of their personal data.

A coalition of privacy groups, in an open letter to Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg last month, welcomed the social network's recent overhaul of its privacy controls but said additional steps were needed.

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