Facebook gives security and privacy whistleblowers a red card

Filed Under: Facebook, Malware, Privacy, Social networks, Spam, Vulnerability

Red cardIn a bizarre move by Facebook, a blog which has highlighted security and privacy issues on the social network has found itself banned, preventing the spread of news, opinion and advice.

The "Unofficial Guide to Facebook Privacy and Security" blog, which in the past has uncovered security issues such as Facebook's own help center being over-run by spammers, has fallen foul of Facebook's security systems - which are flagging the blog's content as abusive.

Although the "Unofficial Guide to Facebook Privacy and Security" blog's own Facebook page has not been removed, the security experts behind the site find themselves effectively paralysed - unable to post links to their own content.

Blog banned on Facebook

It's not just the folks behind the blog who can't post links to their site, of course. All Facebook users appear to be blocked at the moment from sharing links to the site, despite there not being any clear indication as to what can be considered abusive on the site.

This is not, of course, the first time that Facebook has suspended online communities which have been critical of Facebook's security.

Earlier this year we reported on the upset caused after the scam-exposers at The Bulldog Estate found themselves shut down by Facebook, a decision eventually reversed after the story caught the attention of the media.

It was therefore, somewhat fitting that the newly-banned blog sought assistance from The Bulldog Estate to share the news of its suspension with its followers.

Blog banned by Facebook

"Seeing that our most recent article was the first to highlight the massive spam attack on Facebook's Help Center, we're hopeful this is a temporary issue," said Miles Renatus, an administrator on the banned blog. "We haven’t been contacted by Facebook directly as to why this blog has been flagged, and so this would seem part of Facebook's automated process – a vital tool for Facebook to fight spam and scams on its platform. And while we are temporarily frustrated, we applaud Facebook’s anti-spam efforts, and hope to be released from them shortly."

I also hope that Facebook reviews this decision, and allows the "Unofficial Guide to Facebook Privacy and Security" blog to be linked to once again from the very site it is discussing. Let's hope that the ban is the result of carelessness on Facebook's part rather than an attempt to stifle free speech.

It would certainly be a great shame if the Facebook ban was permanent, and lead those behind the blog to draw an end to their work keeping social networking users informed of the issues.

If you use Facebook and want to get an early warning about the latest attacks, scams and privacy issues, you should join the Sophos Facebook page where we have a thriving community of over 150,000 people. Fingers crossed our content doesn't also fall foul of Facebook in the future..

Update: Good news! The Facebook Privacy and Security blog reports that normal service has been resumed, and Facebook is no longer categorising its webpages as abusive. Plaudits to Facebook for correcting their error.

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8 Responses to Facebook gives security and privacy whistleblowers a red card

  1. unofficialguidetofacebookprivacyandsecurity · 952 days ago

    We at the Unofficial Guide to Facebook Privacy and Security would like to thank Graham Cluley and Sophos for their support which appears to have helped enormously. We are now able to post links to our blog, and though some Facebook users are reporting that clicking on them is still prompting a spam message, we are informed that it takes time for commands to filter to all of Facebook's servers. For the most part we are back up and running, thanks to Sophos and all of the people who gave their time to report this issue.

  2. Richard · 952 days ago

    I can't post links to snopes either.

  3. Lisa · 952 days ago

    They block other helpful sites as well and it just doesn't make sense. Block the scammers and virus makers, not the god honest sites that are trying to help people.

  4. sorry if this comes up as second post, I am not seeing first post here or as a tweet.
    Maybe that is why facebook disabled me, they say I violated policy and I think they indicate I sent spam, I have had NO definite answer as to what I did they do not respond to disabled forms I have submitted.I had shortly before being disabled posted links about a scam going around on facebook.I got no warnings that I had done anything wrong. I have not Knowingly done anything wrong.
    Facebook is the only way I have to stay in contact (other then e-mail,YUK!) with several extended family members and several friends.
    I have lost some contact info that unfortunately was saved only in messages and note drafts, and also a couple notes that were unsaved,I have no access to anything. Facebook has my e-mails tied up.
    IMO facebook does not care about users, they more interested in selling Advertisements to Known & Suspected BAD web pages/sites(per W.O.T and Kaspersky)

  5. I get around this issue with piratebay links that are blocked by using bit.ly if that helps. Just remove previews to stop facebook checking the link

  6. Sean Sullivan · 948 days ago

    “In a bizarre move by Facebook”.

    Wow… could you get any more disingenuous than that? Facebook's automated systems produce a false positive. And you find that to be “bizarre”.

    Graham, try getting out of your PR department and go talk to some of the guys who work in your labs. Content filtering is a challenging task and can be prone to errors.

    In this case, I bet it was Websense that was the source of the block.

    You're often taking Facebook to task for not doing enough to protect its users. And then when they do, and a false positive occurs, you folks spin it for PR points. If the shoe was on the other foot, you would probably explain that it was a better safe than sorry situation.

    You can't have it both ways! This blog highlights some important issues, and has a voice in the community — but your constant negative spin regarding all things Facebook is intellectually dishonest and does harm to the community. Stop it.

    • Mac OS X's built-in dictionary tells me that "bizarre" means "very strange or unusual, esp. so as to cause interest or amusement"

      Well, it *did* cause interest (and some bemusement.. although I doubt the guys behind the blog affected were laughing). So it fits on that count. And it *was* strange and unusual for Facebook to ban a blog which is about Facebook privacy and security issues.

      Facebook has, as we all acknowledge, been working more closely with the security community. So I stand by Facebook's blocking of the site being "very strange or unusual".

      I'm sure you wouldn't be happy if I said it was "business as normal" for Facebook to block such links!

      Yes, clearly something went wrong at Facebook's end (and although you try to bring WebSense into the frame that seems a little unfair to me.. after all, it's *how* Facebook chooses to integrate WebSense's URL feed into their service which is all important), and I'm glad that they fixed it when the problem was brought to their attention.

      And yes, false alarms and errors can happen to all of us.

      But there is some history of people abusing Facebook's systems to game the system - marking links as abusive, or even tricking the site into taking down perfectly legitimate Facebook pages.

      See http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/anyone_can_t... for instance.

      After that came to light, I would hope that some steps would have been put in place to - at the very least - warn folks when their content is being blocked/disabled so they have an opportunity to quickly ask for a human at Facebook to look into the case.

      Personally, I find it "bizarre" that more hasn't been done to prevent obvious false alarms like this from occurring.

  7. If facebook can blocked blogs, why they can not blocked those people that posting nude pics? I've seen alot of nude pics on facebook and that's make me sad. what if my kids see those pics. Hope they work on this problem that spread on the facebook.

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.