Facebook has had a nightmare week.It started with revelations that the social media giant had been putting “ profits before people ”—something Facebook vehemently denies .Then, suddenly, came Monday’s outage of all Facebook services—Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram—as a result of a misconfiguration.
Facebook’s reputational nightmare worsened as the week ended, with another outage affecting some users on Friday.
Facebook’s Monday outage was met with outrage: in some countries the digital economy was effectively wiped out because its services are integral in speaking to employees, friends and family.Other services related to Facebook didn’t work either, such as Sign in with Facebook.
The Facebook outage also led to multiple conspiracies including speculation that the social network had been hit by a cyberattack, made worse when a seemingly new trove of Facebook details turned up on a dark web forum .
MORE FOR YOU iOS 15: Apple Issues 22 Important iPhone Security Updates Widely-Used Hikvision Security Cameras Vulnerable To Remote Hijacking iOS 15 Is Available Now With These Stunning New iPhone Privacy Features What caused the Facebook outage? In this case, the timing of the outage was coincidental: Facebook wasn’t hacked, as Forbes ’ Davey Winder explains on this week’s Straight Talking Cyber: “Essentially, Facebook updated a configuration file that tells its routers how to communicate with the internet—something called BGP ( border gateway protocol ).They made a mistake in the configuration file, and that error propagated out and affected their DNS—it effectively told the internet that Facebook doesn’t exist anymore: ‘Our servers don’t exist, go away.’
“Normally, they would correct that configuration file, send it out, that would then propagate out and say, ‘hello actually we do still exist’.
The internet would connect again and we’d all be fine.”
But the problem was the integrated ecosystem that Facebook has—which is why WhatsApp and Instagram went down too—because everything relies on Facebook’s infrastructure, including its security.“The people that would need to amend and correct the configuration fie couldn’t get authenticated because Facebook was down,” Winder explains.
The Guardian’s Alex Hearn also explained the Facebook outage eloquently via a tweet .
The issue shows just how finely balanced technical infrastructure is, says Sean Wright, SME security lead at Immersive Labs.“Single changes can create tremendous issues, which have significant financial and reputational impact.”
It also highlighted what happens when firms rely on certain controls and technologies.“Not only was the service down, but Facebook employees were unable to access the servers to rectify the issue quickly,” Wright adds.
Facebook’s comedy of errors It was a comedy of errors for Facebook, and the start of the week had been far from funny for the social network.A whistle-blower has been giving explosive testimony about how Facebook and its sister site Instagram are causing harm to users, a fact allegedly already known by Facebook itself because it had done the research.
All the dialogue about Facebook this week has been entirely negative and as a result it’s been an incredibly costly week for the social network.
Facebook’s share price has tumbled .The ad business is going badly for the social network too.Being offline for five hours on Monday left many businesses unable to operate, and resulted in more lost revenue for its advertisers.
“It hasn’t been a great week for Facebook’s reputation which in turn has potentially weakened user confidence in the platform,” says Jake Moore, a cybersecurity specialist at ESET.“The competition on offer is already edging ahead with younger generations,” he points out.
Apple’s new privacy features have also been hitting Facebook hard.
The company admitted in a recent blog that it was no longer able to accurately measure ad campaigns without the identifier for advertisers (IDFA), which Apple users are increasingly blocking as part of the new App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature.
Facebook users are more privacy-aware than ever Yet people are becoming more aware of their privacy, and the data-hungry habits of Facebook.Some people are already deleting their accounts—although on paper, Facebook user numbers aren’t going down.This nightmare week and Facebook outages could have also led many to realise than actually, they are ok without Facebook and Instagram in their lives.
WhatsApp competitor Telegram says it added 70 million users when WhatsApp was down, and Twitter was certainly busier while Facebook users looked for somewhere else to go.
After such a nightmare week for Facebook, should you delete your account? It’s hard to know what to do when you use it to communicate with friends and family, but perhaps do what I do: Only use Facebook on your browser, rather than an app that goes everywhere with you, and lock it down via the privacy settings.Use tools such as Apple’s ATT feature to block some of the tracking, and try to spend less time on the social media site.
Facebook responds Facebook denies it puts profits before people, saying:
“The growth of people or advertisers using Facebook means nothing if our services aren’t being used in ways that bring people closer together—that’s why we are investing so much in security that it impacts our bottom line.Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.To say we turn a blind eye to feedback ignores these investments, including the 40,000 people working on safety and security at Facebook and our investment of $13 billion since 2016.”
Facebook has responded to the claim that internal research shows the company is not doing enough to eradicate harmful content on the platform, saying:
“We’ve invested heavily in people and technology to keep our platform safe, and have made fighting misinformation and providing authoritative information a priority.If any research had identified an exact solution to these complex challenges, the tech industry, governments, and society would have solved them a long time ago.
We have a strong track record of using our research—as well as external research and close collaboration with experts and organizations—to inform changes to our apps.”
Facebook also denied its platform was toxic to teens, saying:
“The research actually demonstrated that many teens we heard from feel that using Instagram helps them when they are struggling with the kinds of hard moments and issues teenagers have always faced.This research, like external research on these issues, found teens report having both positive and negative experiences with social media.”
Kate is an award winning and widely-recognized cybersecurity and privacy journalist with well over a decade’s experience covering the issues that matter to users,
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Kate is an award winning and widely-recognized cybersecurity and privacy journalist with well over a decade’s experience covering the issues that matter to users, businesses and governments.In addition to Forbes, her work can be found in publications including Wired, The Guardian, The Observer, The Times and The Economist.
With a focus on smartphone security including Apple iOS security and privacy, application security, cyberwarfare and data misuse by the big tech firms, Kate reports and analyzes breaking cybersecurity and privacy stories and trending topics.
A co-founder of the Forbes Straight Talking Cyber video project, which has been named ‘Most Educational Content’ at the 2021 European Cybersecurity Blogger Awards, she is also a recognized industry commentator and has appeared on radio shows including the WVON Morning Show with Attorney Ernest B.Fenton, BBC Radio 5 Live and podcasts such as the Guardian’s Today in Focus.Kate can be reached at [email protected] .