Why Facebook Shadow Profiles Matter to Everyone

What started off as the report of a simple bug leading to a security breach on Facebook, Friday, has shed light on some shadowy practices.

Shadow Profiles are the main concern of most Facebook users – and non-Facebook users. It doesn’t seem to matter if your contact information is private, whether you’re active on the social network or not, if you have a friend that uses Facebook you may be one of the 6 million who were affected by this leak.

It all started when a researcher reported a bug with the Facebook Download Your Information Tool to online security firm Packet Storm, who promptly alerted Facebook.

An email was then sent out to some Facebook users who may have been affected by the breach alerting them that their contact information had been compromised, apologizing for the inconvenience, and assuring that at most only one Facebook user had seen the leaked information.

Here’s the part of the email where Facebook explains just what happened:

“Describing what caused the bug can get pretty technical, but we want to explain how it happened. When people upload their contact lists or address books to Facebook, we try to match that data with the contact information of other people on Facebook in order to generate friend recommendations. Because of the bug, the email addresses and phone numbers used to make friend recommendations and reduce the number of invitations we send were inadvertently stored in their account on Facebook, along with their uploaded contacts. As a result, if a person went to download an archive of their Facebook account through our Download Your Information (DYI) tool, which included their uploaded contacts, they may have been provided with additional email addresses or telephone numbers.”

That’s when the real issues started to surface because contact information that may not have been intentionally provided to Facebook was now at risk, revealing the existence of Shadow Profiles, something that Facebook has not confirmed. When you use the “Find Friends” feature on your smartphone you are giving Facebook access to all of your information and your contacts’ information. Even if you haven’t used the feature all it takes is one of your friends to do so.  Someone who has never used Facebook in their life could potentially have a shadow profile on the network where their information is being stored without their knowledge or consent. That’s when it starts to get alarming.

The real lesson at hand is that revelations like this give a whole new meaning to social media savvy. It’s not all about having the most likes, the most friends, the most interesting posts, we’re all so busy with those functions of social media that we fail to ask just what is being done with our information.

Facebook can do this. They are perfectly within their rights to because you agreed to the terms of service when you signed up. If you have ever watched the HUMANCENTiPAD episode of South Park, and I recommend that you do, then you’d know that there is a lot of ground covered in those terms of service that you need to take note of.

What makes the act of secretly filing away our data more suspicious is the fact that Facebook is one of nine companies that were revealed to have made a deal with the NSA to turn over user information.

There is a lot of speculation up to this point, but we should probably start paying a little more attention to the “pretty technical” components of the sites we’re sharing our lives on.

I live to write, create, and tell stories. I'm a freelance journalist with a strong curiosity about the way online culture translates into our everyday lives. I drink too much coffee, shop a little too much and invest way too much emotion into fictional characters. What can I say? I live in extremes.

1 Comment

  1. atubanos

    June 28, 2013 at 10:23 am

    OMG I can’t believe you reference the Human CentiPAD episode!! That one episode has scarred me for life!!! LOL

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