<IT WORLD> Red face for Facebook
By Martin J Young
HUA HIN, Thailand - The world's largest social network was shaken up this week
when it had to settle a complaint by the US Federal Trade Commission over its
privacy policies. Facebook, with more than 800 million users, agreed to change
the way it uses and shares personal information with the public and
A change in privacy settings in 2009 allowed the company to publicize user data
such as age, gender, picture and location - this caused a wave of complaints
that resulted in the FTC settlement claiming that Facebook failed to keep its
Facebook claimed that once an account was deactivated the content, information,
pictures and video within it would not be
accessible when in fact it was. It also claimed to have a "verified apps"
policy to ensure third-party applications were secure when it didn't, and it
told users that their data would not be shared with advertisers when in reality
it was, usually without the consent of the customer.
Under the proposed settlement, Facebook would not be allowed to make changes to
its policies regarding the use of personal data without seeking approval from
its members - something it promised to do from the start. The company must also
obtain periodic reviews of its privacy policies by independent auditors for the
next 20 years.
This week's settlement is part of a broader US government push to hold
companies more accountable and increase transparency over the collection of
For Facebook it is part of an effort to resolve legal issues before its
long-awaited initial public offering in the first half of 2012. The company is
considering valuing itself at US$100 billion and raising $10 billion from the
IPO. The public offering would be the largest by any technology or Internet
company. Google's 2004 IPO of $1.9 billion valued the company at $23 billion
when it passed 500 shareholders.
Philippine police officials, working in conjunction with the US Federal Bureau
of Investigation, have arrested four people over a mobile-phone scam that
funneled almost $2 million from mobile carrier AT&T into terrorist
According to the Philippines' Criminal Investigation and Detection Group the
hackers were paid by the same group that the FBI accused of funding the 2008
Mumbai attack. Affiliations with Jemaah Islamiyah were discovered and finances
gained from the scams were reported to have been transferred to an un-named
Saudi Arabia-based organization.
The scam involved hacking into the accounts of AT&T customers and making
calls to international premium rate services whose payments would then be
diverted. The bogus phone services, usually set up in Eastern Europe, Africa
and Asia, would collect the cash and pass it on to the suspects who would then
divert it into the accounts of those paying them.
AT&T stated that they have reimbursed their customers of the charges and
that their network was not targeted.
in the US have discovered a security flaw that could enable hackers to take
over, not a computer as expected, but a printer. An exploit in the firmware
update feature on network connected Hewlett Packard LaserJet printers could
allow attackers to gain access to the device, steal data and issue commands
that could cause it to overheat or even catch fire.
The findings were first published by MSNBC in a report that claimed millions of
businesses, consumers and even government agencies were at risk from a new
breed of computer security flaws. The weakness lies in the authentication
process for updating the firmware. The system can be fooled to accept modified
firmware from anyone with access to the device.
HP labeled the reporting as "sensational and inaccurate". The company said it
had discovered the flaw but has yet to receive any customer complaints
regarding their printers being hacked. HP also said its printers have failsafe
mechanisms that will prevent extreme overheating of components or a fire.
Alibaba Group, China's largest e-commerce company, and Japan's Softbank Corp
are reported to have entered into talks with private equity firms over a bid
for Yahoo. Alibaba spokesman John Spelich has stated that no decision has been
made. Softbank - which holds a 32.6% stake in Alibaba - declined to comment.
The bid by the consortium would be in the US$20 per share region, which would
value the company at around $25 billion. Alibaba's primary interest is buying
back a 40% stake in the Chinese company that was purchased by Yahoo in 2005.
Yahoo shares gained 6.4% in after-hours trading on Wednesday.
Microsoft enjoyed a record period over the recent US holiday period as it sold
almost a million Xbox consoles during the last week in November. The stats are
impressive considering that the device is in its seventh year of production.
The Xbox 360 has been the top-selling games console for most of this year
thanks to the motion-sensing Kinect device that can be attached to it.
Microsoft plans to extend the reach of the Kinect by tying it closer to new
releases of Windows in addition to expanding the Xbox LIVE online entertainment
platform. The US Thanksgiving long weekend is a good indicator of online buying
trends for the approaching Christmas and New Year holiday period, a make or
break time for many products, games and gadgets.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.
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