Does Facebook leak phone numbers of 210 million users?
Hundreds of millions of phone numbers of Facebook accounts have been found online.
The exposed server contained more than 419 million records over several databases on users across geographies, from which it includes 133 million records on U.S.-based Facebook users, 18 million records of users in the U.K., and another with more than 50 million records on users in Vietnam.
Facebook has admitted to yet another privacy breach, this time leaking 419 million phone numbers shared with the social network by its users. According to reports, the information was stored on a server connected to the web and not password-protected, which meant anyone who spotted the data could view it without any effort.
The leaked dataset included Facebook IDs (made up of your username and a unique number), as well as associated phone numbers. > Full name, gender and country were listed for some of the records. It’s not yet clear who scraped the data, but it has been removed by the web-hosting company.
The dataset was spotted by security researchers at the GDI Foundation. Facebook previously collected phone numbers so users could search for each other, but the practice was stopped last year after it became clear that scammers and political campaigns were using Facebook’s automated tool to scrape names and profiles by entering a phone number.
This latest incident follows last year’s data breach when hackers accessed the data of more than 50 million users, as well as the Cambridge Analytica scandal. And it comes as US regulators pile on another antitrust investigation into the company, with New York state authorities looking into whether Facebook has “endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices or increased the price of advertising”.
Facebook says it isn’t a monopoly because there are plenty of social-media alternatives online, though it now owns WhatsApp and Instagram.
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How will it affect you?
Some of the records were duplicates, so the actual number of users affected is around 210 million. Of those, about 18 million were UK Facebook users, while 133 million were in the US.
The tool that is suspected to have collected the data was disabled last year, which Facebook said suggests the affected phone numbers are old. However, tests by tech news site TechCrunch shows plenty of the numbers are still in use.
“This dataset is old and appears to have information obtained before we made changes last year to remove people’s ability to find others using their phone numbers,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement sent to journalists.
“The dataset has been taken down and we have seen no evidence that Facebook accounts were compromised.” While it’s possible for your phone number to be harvested by data brokers or abused by scammers, this particular data breach isn’t likely to lead to other serious repercussions.
Still, it makes us think twice about entering phone numbers on Facebook, or letting the site peek at our contacts list. To leave Facebook, you can either deactivate or delete your account: the former removes it from active use, letting you re-enable it later, while the latter completely removes your profile.
What do we think?
Oh, Facebook! The company can’t seem to catch a break. But we have no pity for Mark Zuckerberg or his social network.
The reason this data was collected and left unprotected is the company’s profound disrespect for data privacy. Facebook never needed our phone numbers – the tool to search for friends using their number was clearly nothing other than a data grab to help further identify users.
Even after disabling the phone-number search tool, Facebook kept asking users for phone numbers, saying it was for security authentication. Yet last year, researchers revealed that such numbers were used to target ads.
We think it’s right that regulators consider whether Facebook has too much power, and ensure that it doesn’t further link accounts across Instagram and WhatsApp. It’s disappointing that so many popular web properties have been snapped by Zuckerberg’s company, given its many data issues.
Of course, none of these data problems should come as a surprise. Facebook has failed time and again to protect user privacy. The time may have come to abandon it altogether.
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