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Shocked by latest Facebook breach? It is not as bad as Cambridge Analytica

The March scandal was a result of policy or procedure, this time, there's an actual weakness in engineering

Sarah Frier | Bloomberg 

Facebook

Another day, another Facebook scandal. The latest is an attack on about 50 million user accounts that gave hackers full access, potentially allowing them to read private messages and make posts.

Just like with the company's Cambridge Analytica scandal in March, politicians and regulators have been making statements about wanting to get to the bottom of what happened, and hold Facebook accountable for its missteps.

But Friday’s breach differs in a few key ways. First of all, it's actually a hack. The March scandal was a result of policy or procedure: An researcher had gathered information on Facebook's users and their friends and then sold it to Cambridge Analytica, the political consultant. It revealed how ill-prepared Facebook was for the downsides of data sharing -- but no actual vulnerability in Facebook's software.

This time, there's an actual weakness in engineering — an area where Facebook is supposed to be pretty proficient. And the hackers could see private information, going beyond the level of harm from Cambridge Analytica.

It's the worst data breach in Facebook history. So will the uproar be louder? My guess is, it won't, unless Facebook tells us what the hack actually exposed or sought to accomplish. And then that might make things worse.

Cambridge Analytica touched a nerve because the consultancy that got the Facebook profile information went on to help Donald Trump's presidential campaign. There was political intrigue wrapped up in the public's sense of betrayal.

Without that, Friday's news is similar to dozens of other hacks of major companies — devastating in theory, but with intangible effects.

Facebook had plenty of other problems just in the last week. Like Wednesday's report about how the company is using phone numbers provided for security purposes to target people with advertisements. Or Thursday's show of support for Brett Kavanaugh by Facebook's head of policy, who sat just behind the contentious Supreme Court nominee at his hearing. (Facebook says its executive wasn't representing the company — he's just close friends with Kavanaugh.) The appearance was a blow to the company’s attempts to be seen as politically neutral.

Just add the hack to the list of other reasons people feel they can't trust Facebook.

First Published: Tue, October 02 2018. 13:58 IST
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