About Andrew Robertson

I'm Andrew, I work as the Social Media & Marketing Assistant at SocialSafe. I've been writing blogs on here for over two years now, so you'll find pieces from me about anything relating to social media and tech, as well as the changing face of personal data. There's also room for the occasional post on some slightly off topics stories... just for the sake of variety!!

Facebook Group Inadvertently Outs Two Students As Homosexual Despite Strict Privacy Settings

No matter how strictly you control your Facebook Privacy Settings, it appears that private information about your life can still slip through the cracks and be seen by people who you’d rather weren’t aware of certain facts. This is exactly what happened to two young people in Texas when their inclusion in a Facebook Group outed them as homosexuals to their respective parents.

Last year Bobbi Duncan was trying to hide the fact that she is a lesbian from her father. But when the president of the Queer Chorus – a choir group she had recently joined – added her to the choir’s Facebook Group, a notification was sent to her 200 friends, including her father. The very same evening Ms Duncan’s father left all manner of messages and threats on her phone, making the situation very problematic indeed.

Another student at the University of Texas – Taylor McCormick – had been added to the Queer Chorus Facebook Group at the same time as Bobbi. As a result, Taylor was outed to his Facebook Friends and family members as being gay. Despite the fact that both Bobbi and Taylor were sophisticated Facebook users who had taken many steps to control their Privacy Settings so that any clues to their sexual orientation were hidden from their parents, this information was still publicised.

Commenting on this story, Jason Calacanis had this to say:

“This is the price that consumers are paying for Facebook’s horrible, horrible track record and attitude around privacy. We did blog post after blog post about how stupid it was to allow your friends to add you to a group, and Facebook ignored them. Letting others tag you and autoposting those photos to your feed is another example of Facebook’s very immature and self-centered approach to our privacy… I really think that all of these seemingly little mistakes are going to be Facebook’s downfall.”

It’s easy to point at Facebook and its “post first, ask questions later” approach to your personal information, but whichever way you slice it, Facebook is a free, public network that makes its money from your data. It’s only a matter of time before your ‘private’ data becomes less private.

In the case of the Queer Chorus, it’s an unfortunate situation where the organiser tried to help the members stay up to date with the rehearsal schedule, but two young people were inadvertently outed to their parents. If the choir master had used a private sharing network, this predicament could have been easily avoided. Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at least people can learn from the previous mistakes of others.

Is Your Phone Number Searchable On Facebook? We Tell You How To Fix This

I’ve just read an article that may prompt you to check your Facebook privacy settings and make a few changes. It turns out that Facebook has a reverse look up feature that enables users to search a phone number and find the person to whom it belongs. And up until this week, that feature could be exploited to look up thousands of numbers at once.

A security researcher discovered that they were able to look up random phone numbers on Facebook and harvest the names of the people those numbers corresponded to, but Facebook has now patched the system. As it now stands, a user can perform a limited number of reverse look-ups from a given IP address.

But why can someone do this in the first place? It turns out that anyone can type a phone number into the search bar in the same way that you’d type a friend’s name or a group for example. If the phone number matches that of anyone who has theirs listed on Facebook, then their profile will come up. So before Facebook patched the system, it was feasible that people could just enter countless random phone numbers and build a database of people’s names and their contact numbers.

What’s even more worrying is that even if you’re strict with your Facebook privacy controls, it’s likely you’ve overlooked this one, as Graham Cluley from Sophos explains: “Even if you altered your privacy settings to ensure that your phone number is only visible to you, other people can still use it to look you up.”

In order to change this setting, you need to go to Privacy Settings > How You Connect, and from there you can change the “Who can look you up using the email address or phone number you provided?” option from its default setting of Everyone to another selection.

facebook phone number privacy

If you discover any other privacy related issues with Facebook or any other network, or have any tips that you’d like to share with everyone else, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Raft Of Prosecutions Lead To Social Media Law Discussions

Social media laws in the UK are set to be reviewed in the wake of a recent number of prosecutions that have had a “chilling effect” on free speech. Speaking to the BBC, Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC said that the right to be offensive “has to be protected”.

On Monday, Matthew Wood was jailed for posting comments about April Jones, the missing five-year-old girl from Wales, while Azhar Ahmed was given 240 hours community service after he wrote an offensive post about dead British soldiers. Both prosecutions were made under the UK’s Communications Act 2003.

The CPS will invite academics, lawyers and representatives from social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter to be a part of the discussions that will shape the new guidelines for policing social media. Police forces are concerned that their resources are being wasted on too many petty online rows. Mr Starmer explained that the existing law is difficult for prosecutors to work within.

He also added:

“The emerging thinking is that it might be sensible to divide and separate cases where there’s a campaign of harassment, [or] cases where there’s a credible and general threat, and prosecute in those sorts of cases… And put in another category communications which are, as it were, merely offensive or grossly offensive… [It] doesn’t mean the second category are ring-fenced from prosecution, but it does I think enable us to think of that group in a slightly different way.”

Regardless of how the talks pan out and what guidelines are drawn up, it is clear that anything said online is currently perceived as ‘public’. The line between private and public when it comes to online communications is getting blurrier by the day, but does there come a point where prosecuting people for saying something is an affront to their basic right to free speech?

Tell us what you think by leaving a comment below.

Facebook Didn’t Publish Private Messages, But There Are Still Lessons To Be Learned

This might seem like old news at this point, but now that the dust has settled and the French data protection agency CNIL has published its findings, it’s feels appropriate to discuss the ‘bug’ that saw Facebook publishing ‘private’ messages to some Timelines at the end of September.

Firstly, there was no ‘bug’, and Facebook was quick to point this out right when the issue initially surfaced. However, French media outlets were informing everyone that their messages had been made public, and there was an understandable outcry at the supposed invasion of privacy. Well, it would have been understandable if the facts were correct.

The messages in question were not ‘private messages’, but merely Wall Posts between Facebook Friends – the sort of thing you’d see on your News Feed or on the right hand side ticker bar. However, due to the number of changes that have been made to the layout of Facebook and the way it works over the years, there was some confusion over the privacy of such exchanges.

The CNIL made this point clearly in their report on the matter:

“The way Facebook used to work before 2010 is not comparable to the way the social network works today. The user interface was different and ‘Wall-To-Wall’ messages were much less prominent. ‘Wall-To-Wall’ messages were therefore perceived as private by the users.”

This serves as another stark reminder that you need to be very careful about saying things online, and be sure to check the privacy of any conversations you might be having. Facebook is a fantastic place to hold an open discussion and invite contributions from a wide range of people, but it’s been proven that things can easily become confused when it comes to private exchanges of information.

If you need to communicate privately, or share pictures and other sensitive information with a select group of people, you may find a private sharing network to be a better method of sharing. Start using DADapp to easily and privately share your photos, music, videos and files with your own world, not the whole world.

File-Sharing Sites Taken Down In Police Raid – Will Your Private Files Be Affected?

A number of file-sharing sites have been taken offline following a raid by Swedish police on hosting company PRQ earlier in the week. Four servers were taken offline, resulting in possibly dozens of torrent sites – including torrenthound.com. linkomanija.net and several sports streaming sites – to become inaccessible.

PRQ was founded by the same two Swedes who later founded The Pirate Bay – the file sharing site that has been blocked by many ISPs in the UK this year. By way of a coincidence, The Pirate Bay also went offline on Monday, but as that particular torrent site doesn’t rely on PRQ for hosting, it wasn’t connected with the raid by Swedish police. The Pirate Bay said on Facebook that the site was suffering through a power outage.

So while this, and other many other raids will have been done to protect the illegal sharing of copyrighted materials such as films and music, there will inevitably by innocents caught in the cross-fire. People who use the sites to host their own files and share legally share information with other people will now have lost their capability to send and share files.

The shutting down of sites due to the actions of some users is becoming more and more commonplace, so if you use such sites to host and share files, then maybe you’d be better off storing your own files and using a private sharing network to share them with your contacts. Use DADapp for the easy private sharing of photos, music, videos and files.

Director Of Public Prosecutions Calls For Social Media Guidelines

The issue of prosecutions based on postings to social networks has been getting bigger and bigger over recent months, with several high-profile cases being reported and discussed in the mainstream media. Spontaneous remarks intended to be humorous and only viewed be a select group of individuals have in fact been found to breach certain parts of The Communications Act 2003 in the UK, and in some cases have seen the individuals behind those remarks convicted of a criminal offence.

However, Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, has issued a lengthy statement detailing the problems faced by all parties: those who use social networks to voice an opinion, those who might be offended by such an opinion, and those responsible for enforcing the laws pertaining to the expression of such opinions and the effect they have on others. If you have the time, I’d highly recommend reading his statement, which can be found online at The Telegraph. He acknowledges the right to freedom of speech, referencing an observation by the ECHR in 1976, that says the right to freedom of expression includes the right to say things or express opinions “…that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population”.

But he also addresses the fact that, in his own words:

“the CPS has the task of balancing the fundamental right of free speech and the need to prosecute serious wrongdoing on a case by case basis. That often involves very difficult judgment calls… In some cases it is clear that a criminal prosecution is the appropriate response to conduct which is complained about, for example where there is a sustained campaign of harassment of an individual… or where grossly offensive or threatening remarks are made and maintained.”

There will also be a set of guidelines drawn up following wide public consultation, as well as input from campaigners, media lawyers, academics, social media experts and law enforcement bodies. However, there was one point he made in his statement that I’d like to  reiterate:

“Communications intended for a few may reach millions.”

I’m no longer discussing potentially offensive messages or something that might breach The Communications Act, but communication at large. Think for a moment about what would happen if confidential information that could jeopardise your business prior to a merger or a big deal were to accidentally be exposed to competitors or others who you’d prefer weren’t privy to such knowledge. It could be a very problematic situation indeed.

Even for the overwhelming majority of us who use social media in a respectful, legal manner, the issues addressed by Keir Starmer QC’s statement should still apply to us. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the way we communicate in an increasingly digital world, and think about the potential implications that arise from the manner in which we choose to share information online.

As Twitter Hands Over Tweets To The Manhattan DA, Is Anyone Safe Behind A Keyboard?

Twitter has been legally forced to hand over messages sent by the Occupy Wall Street protester Malcolm Harris. The messages had to be given to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office by September 14th, otherwise Twitter would have been in contempt of court and be facing substantial fines.

The DA’s Office believe that the messages posted by Mr Harris undermine his claim that New York police led protesters on to the Brooklyn Bridge, so that they could be arrested for obstructing traffic. It claims that the information and tweets handed over by Twitter will prove that Mr Harris was aware of police orders that he then disregarded.

If we put the opinions and political motivations behind both sides of this case to one side for a moment, we are left with legal precedent that whatever you say on a social network is tied to you, and you can be held accountable for those posts. Once you say something on a social network, even if it was a fleeting comment posted in the heat of the moment, it is then in the public domain, and you are accountable for that comment.

Another example of this can be found in last week’s news, when Azhar Ahmed was found guilty of posting an offensive message on Facebook. Again, irrespective of what was said and whether or not he should have said it (or even thought it), the case further underlines the point that you can be held legally accountable for whatever you say online.

In the case of Malcolm Harris, the court won’t be inspecting any of the data supplied by Twitter until an appeal from his lawyers is heard. As we have also seen, even tongue in cheek remarks can cause legal problems – just ask Paul Chambers who was found guilty of sending a menacing tweet. Even though he was eventually successful in overturning his conviction, he still had to endure a legal battle that lasted almost two years.

People are apparently no longer safe behind their keyboards, so maybe it’s worth thinking twice before saying something, and also thinking about where you are saying it.

Lawyer Fired After Posting Picture Of Client’s Underwear On Facebook

A public defence lawyer in Florida has lost her job after posting a picture of her client’s exotic underwear on Facebook. A Miami-Dade judge also declared mistrial in the associated murder case. Fermin Recalde is accused of stabbing his girlfriend to death in 2010.

Recalde’s family had brought him a bag of fresh clothes to wear during the trial, and while Miami-Dade corrections officers were searching the items as part of a routine inspection, Recalde’s public defender Anya Cintron Stern took a photo of his leopard-print briefs with her phone. Later on during a break, the 31-year-old lawyer posted the picture to her personal Facebook page, complete with a caption suggesting that the defendant’s family believed the underwear was “proper attire for a trial”.

Despite the fact that her profile was set to private and only viewable by her friends, someone who saw the post notified Miami-Dade Judge Leon Firtel, who declared a mistrial. Cintron Stern was immediately fired because of the Facebook picture, and it later transpired that an earlier post on her Facebook profile appeared to question her client’s innocence.

Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez said: “When a lawyer broadcasts disparaging and humiliating words and pictures, it undermines the basic client relationship and it gives the appearance that he is not receiving a fair trial.”

Sharing sensitive information online can land you in a lot of trouble, and as this episode shows, can even cost you your job. Privacy settings on social networks can be very confusing at times, but you should still always thing before you post.

Intercepting Data Sent Over Unencrypted WiFi Networks Is Not Wiretapping

The legal issues surrounding intercepting data sent over unencrypted WiFi networks have just become more ambiguous after a federal judge in Illinois has ruled that the practice is not tantamount to wiretapping. Anyone familiar with a particular privacy case brought against Google will know that this latest ruling goes against the 2011 decision that the search giant violated the law when its Street View cars harvested fragments of data from open WiFi networks around the USA and in other countries.

The letter of the law is key here: while federal law makes it illegal to intercept electronic communications, there is an important exception. It is not illegal to intercept communications “made through an electronic communication system that is configured so that such electronic communication is readily accessible to the general public.”

The particular case in question involves a company called Innovatio IP Ventures, who wanted to use packet sniffing gear to gather WiFi traffic for use against various “hotels, coffee shops, restaurants” and other businesses that it accuses of infringing patents. Judge James Holderman ruled that this falls within the exception:

“A basic packet capture adapter is available for only $198.00. The software necessary to analyze the data that the packet capture adapters collect is available for download for free. With a packet capture adapter and the software, along with a basic laptop computer, any member of the general public within range of an unencrypted WiFi network can begin intercepting communications sent on that network… the court concludes that the communications sent on an unencrypted WiFi networks are readily available to the general public.”

Putting this particular case and the legality of the practice to one side for a moment, this ruling should hopefully serve as a warning to most that it is very important to secure your own networks. As well as this, when using public networks such as the WiFi at a coffee shop, make sure that you are careful what information you share and how you go about sharing it.

US Man Jailed For Hacking Computers And Selling Access

A man in the US has been jailed for 30 months for selling access to thousands of hijacked computers. After taking over more than 72,000 PCs using viruses, Joshua Schichtel of Phoenix, Arizona, would rent out usage of the computers.

Across the world, millions on PCs are enrolled in these sort of networks, known as botnets. Typically, the computers are used to help send out junk email messages, however in this case, Schichtel’s customers would install their own malicious software on the compromised PCs in an effort to aid their own individual cyber-crime efforts.

On top of the 30 month jail term, Schichtel will also be subject to a three-year supervised release programme once he is allowed out of prison. This will tightly control his access to computers and the internet.

The US Department of Justice released a statement saying that Schichtel pleaded guilty to one count of selling access to 72,000 machines that were part of a bigger botnet that he controlled. Remotely attempting to cause damage to computers without authorisation is in breach of the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Schichtel escaped a conviction in 2004 when he was one of four men accused of using botnets to carry out attacks on websites. The charges had to be dropped on that occasion because the US government failed to file and indictment before a court-imposed deadline.