Uh-Oh: Facebook Just Got a Whole Lot Creepier

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Top Tier Gear USA


I’ve been creeped out by Facebook for a long time now. The following story takes it to another level.

From Fusion:

While some of these incredibly accurate friend suggestions are amusing, others are alarming, such as this story from Lisa*, a psychiatrist who is an infrequent Facebook user, mostly signing in to RSVP for events. Last summer, she noticed that the social network had started recommending her patients as friends—and she had no idea why.

“I haven’t shared my email or phone contacts with Facebook,” she told me over the phone.

The next week, things got weirder.

Most of her patients are senior citizens or people with serious health or developmental issues, but she has one outlier: a 30-something snowboarder. Usually, Facebook would recommend he friend people his own age, who snowboard and jump out of planes. But Lisa told me that he had started seeing older and infirm people, such as a 70-year-old gentleman with a walker and someone with cerebral palsy.

“He laughed and said, ‘I don’t know any of these people who showed up on my list— I’m guessing they see you,’” recounted Lisa. “He showed me the list of friend recommendations, and I recognized some of my patients.”

She sat there awkwardly and silently. To let him know that his suspicion was correct would violate her duty to protect her patients’ privacy.

Another one of her female patients had a friend recommendation pop up for a fellow patient she recognized from the office’s elevator. Suddenly, she knew the other patient’s full name along with all their Facebook profile information.

“It’s a massive privacy fail,” said Lisa. “I have patients with HIV, people that have attempted suicide and women in coercive and violent relationships.”

Lisa lives in a relatively small town and was alarmed that Facebook was inadvertently outing people with health and psychiatric issues to her network. She’s a tech-savvy person, familiar with VPNs, Tor and computer security practices recommended by the Electronic Frontier Foundation–but she had no idea what was causing it.

She hadn’t friended any of her patients on Facebook, nor looked up their profiles. She didn’t have a guest wifi network at the office that they were all using. After seeing my report that Facebook was using location from people’s smartphones to make friend recommendations, she was convinced this happened because she had logged into Facebook at the office on her personal computer. She thought that Facebook had figured out that she and her patients were all in the same place repeatedly. However, Facebook says it only briefly used location for friend recommendations in a test and that it was just “at the city-level.

When Lisa looked at her Facebook profile, she was surprised to see that she had, at some point, given Facebook her cell phone number. It’s a number that her patients could also have in their phones. Many people don’t realize that if they give Facebook access to their phone contacts, it uses that information to make friend recommendations; so if your ex-boss or your one-time Tinder date or your psychiatrist is a contact in your phone, you might start seeing them pop up in the “People You May Know” list.

That’s my guess as to how this happened.

The above tale presents a good opportunity to revisit a post highlighted last year by Salim Varani titled, A Very Disturbing and Powerful Post – “Get Your Loved Ones Off Facebook.” In it, he warned:

“Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to ask you why you’re getting off Facebook,” is the guilty and reluctant question I’m hearing a lot these days. Like we kinda know Facebook is bad, but don’t really want to know.

I’ve been a big Facebook supporter – one of the first users in my social group who championed what a great way it was to stay in touch, way back in 2006. I got my mum and brothers on it, and around 20 other people. I’ve even taught Facebook marketing in one of the UK’s biggest tech education projects, Digital Business Academy. I’m a techie and a marketer — so I can see the implications — and until now, they hadn’t worried me. I’ve been pretty dismissive towards people who hesitate with privacy concerns.

With this latest privacy change on January 30th, I’m scared.

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  • Todd Burgess

    Go ahead and TRY to unsubscribe to Facebook. ‘Tis near impossible, just be insistent, you can do it!

  • John Doe

    This privacy issues goes beyond Facebook. I recently took written notes in Evernote during a conference call with a client, and also repeated out loud the name of our keynote speaker while on the cell phone. After getting off the phone, I opened up Youtube and there were recommended videos about this keynote speaker. I just found out who the speaker was! Where is the leak and how do I plug it? It’s crazy. Nothing is private.

    • Disable your audio in control panel when not using it or put tape over your mic ports although I’m not sure how well the tape thing will work as it depends on the sensitivity of the mic. If you use evernote just don’t sign up for any cloud services so your notes stay on your machine.

      If you use facebook and have the face book app on your cell phone you should pour through all of the settings and disallow it access to your microphone.

      There are very few places online where privacy still exists, proton mail is one of them as they offer private email that really is private. Besides proton mail though if you want privacy the best method is using this free tool that can lock down text or files: gpg4usb.org BUT make sure you use a 4096bit RSA key.

      • per sigurd hansen

        thank you for the tips. just got me a proton mail account:)
        checking out the file lock to,, great!

        • You’re welcome! Use the help inside the gpg4usb program if you want to learn it quickly, it’s simple and great because it really makes it easy. Your RSA 4096 bit key will have 2 parts to it, one you hand out to people, one you don’t and if you put a ridiculous password on there like I do at 500 characters there’s not much of a worry of someone breaking that. I’ve bet my freedom on RSA 4096 bit keys and I’m still free, lol. A while ago somebody pulled off a clever but weak hack where they recorded the encryption process with a microphone and was then able to decrypt the message so it’s not a true hack or flaw and all you would have to do to beat it is eject the cd tray while it’s encrypting.

          • per sigurd hansen

            cool,i have it now and im learning it.. i have some laptops thats not online im going to secure:) thats great,THANK YOU:)

        • NonYo Business

          I’ve had protonmail for years. Don’t think for a second that your data is safe.

      • It is not Paranoia

        Tape it just like Zuckerberg! 🙂

    • TStephen

      You plug it by unplugging.
      Unfortunately there is no other way of protecting yourself entirely.

  • D.Moore

    Can’t un-ring a bell

    • lol

    • per sigurd hansen

      im stealing that:)

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