Facebook can’t keep you safe


Another announcement from Facebook that it has failed to protect your personal information. Were you one of the 50 million (and likely far more, given the company’s graduated disclosure style) users whose accounts were completely exposed by a coding error in play for more than a year? If not, don’t worry — you’ll get your turn being failed by Facebook . It’s incapable of keeping its users safe.

Facebook has proven over and over again that it prioritizes its own product agenda over the safety and privacy of its users. And even if it didn’t, the nature and scale of its operations make it nearly impossible to avoid major data breaches that expose highly personal data.

For one thing, the network has grown so large that its surface area is impossible to secure completely. That was certainly demonstrated Friday when it turned out that a feature rollout had let hackers essentially log in as millions of users and do who knows what. For more than a year.

This breach wasn’t a worst case scenario exactly, but it was close. To Facebook it would not have appeared that an account was behaving oddly — the hacker’s activity would have looked exactly like normal user activity. You wouldn’t have been notified via two-factor authentication, since it would be piggybacking on an existing login. Install some apps? Change some security settings? Export your personal data? All things a hacker could have done, and may very well have.

This happened because Facebook is so big and complicated that even the best software engineers in the world, many of whom do in fact work there, could not reasonably design and code well enough to avoid unforeseen consequences like the bugs in question.

I realize that sounds a bit hand-wavy, and I don’t mean simply that “tech is hard.” I mean that realistically speaking, Facebook has too many moving parts for the mere humans that run it to do so infallibly. It’s testament to their expertise that so few breaches have occurred; the big ones like Cambridge Analytica were failures of judgment, not code.

A failure is not just inevitable but highly incentivized in the hacking community. Facebook is by far the largest and most valuable collection of personal data in history. That makes it a natural target, and while it is far from an easy mark, these aren’t script kiddies trying to find sloppy scripts in their free time.