does a company that was once was the shining light of Silicon Valley
transform itself into one that's becoming despised and cast as a
pariah, even by its original investors and employees? Through
naivety, stubbornness, greed, and some really poor judgment.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is on the defensive, as rightly he
should be. The company's model was based on exchanging messages
among friends using software algorithms that maximize engagement, a
system that was supposed to essentially run mostly on autopilot.
Zuckerberg never assumed his model could be hijacked, or perhaps
didn’t care, accepting the possibility as collateral damage. The
mantra at Facebook was based on two words: “maximize engagement.”
Each day they'd roll out new changes to the feed and look at
engagement. If it went up, they'd make those changes permanent. If
it went down, they'd try something else. But recently maximize
engagement has become synonymous with maximize outrage and
now, there’s a new controversy brewing. WIRED has
just reported that Facebook has been blocking some of its customers
from accessing their feeds. That’s because they've begun to require
users to run a malware scan on their computer, tablet, or phone.
While once optional, it's now mandatory, and they decide when it
should be done.
scans are resulting in myriad problems, such as locking users out of
their accounts and it's affecting Facebook users all over the world.
Not only is Facebook intruding on their users' devices, but it’s
doing so without informing users that it's being done nor telling
them whose software they are using.
Mannan, a security researcher at Concordia University, explained to
WIRED, “An antivirus product can collect a lot of useful information
from the user machine—telemetry data; beyond what Facebook gets
through their website—and share it with Facebook. Facebook should
make their agreements with antivirus partners public.”
common complaint is that it doesn’t ask users the type of device
they're on and often errs in recognizing that information on its
own. In some cases, it assumed the users were on Windows when they
were using a Mac. And for others, it required a scan when signing
into the same Facebook account from one device but not from another.
And sometimes the problem goes away if the user selects a different
based on postings in forums across the web, the problem has been
around for several years, but what’s made it worse is that Facebook
now mandates that the scans be done.
cited the example of a Facebook user who was completely locked out
of her account on February 11. She received a message requesting
that she download the Facebook malware scan software tool for
Windows if she wanted to get back into her account. Unfortunately,
she was using a Mac. “I could not actually run the software they
were demanding I download and use,” she says. When she logged in
from her work computer, the same thing occurred.
response to this issue, Facebook spokesman Jay Nancarrow explained,
“Our visibility into each account on a given device isn’t complete
enough for us to checkpoint based only on the device, without
factoring in whether the particular account is acting in a
not sure exactly what that means, but if they can’t detect your
device, how do they know it’s infected? The other issue is that
providing access to antivirus software exposes nearly everything on
your computer, far more than what an app generally does.
it’s not even clear which virus scan software Facebook uses. WIRED
pointed out to Nancarrow that Facebook’s posts don’t make it clear
which software they use to do these scans. The companies Facebook
works with have changed over the past three years, but the Facebook
disclosures have never been updated. Nancarrow responded, “Thank you
for bringing this to our attention. We will update our documentation
to reflect the current set of companies.”
Facebook has a legitimate need to run these scans, they should be
much more transparent, explain what they are doing, and give you an
opportunity to opt in or out, rather than just scanning your entire
course, as one reader noted in an earlier column, “Why do people use
this product?" That’s becoming more difficult to answer as we learn
more about Facebook.