Facebook gains 800 million subscribers, but how secure is the site?

Facebook has close to 800 million subscribers worldwide. Internet World Stats.com reports that the world’s number one social networking site registered 799,092, 160 subscribers at yearend 2011.

Europe has the largest number of subscribers in the world, 223 million and a penetration rate of 27.4 %.

“North America has the largest Facebook penetration rate, 50.3 %, indicating that one out of every two persons in America has a Facebook account,” says Internet World Stats CEO, Enrique de Argaez.

The web-information company Alexa, lists Facebook the the top ten websites in the world, ranking it number 2 with Google in the top spot. YouTube is ranked number 3.

Forbes, meanwhile, reports that Facebook’s advertising business is enjoying an upswing. Citing a report released by Facebook Marketing firm TBG Digital, Forbes states, “Facebook saw rising ad rates as well as better performance on those ads in the fourth quarter of 2011.” Forbes further notes, “Facebook provides strong incentives for advertisers looking to amass Facebook fans or get them to install an application to stay within the Facebook platform rather than send traffic to other sites (like, say, their own), by providing an effective 45% discount in cost per click to advertisers that don’t go offsite.”

Against this backdrop of seeming financial success and a steadily growing subscriber base, word in the air is that the privately owned Facebook is preparing to go public in May with an IPO that could raise $10 billion at a $100 billion valuation.

For now it’s blue skies ahead for Facebook’s 27-year old founder, Mark Zuckerberg who has sailed through the US economic downturn to become (by Forbes’ reckoning) the 9th most powerful person in the world. He’s ranked number 14 on Forbes’ list of America’s 500 richest people, number 52 among the richest people on the planet, and 22 among the wealthiest Americans.

“What the CIA failed to do in 60 years, Zuck has done in 7: knowing what 800 million people – more than 10% of the world’s population – think, read and listen to, plus who they know, what they like and where they live, travel, vote, shop, worship,” says Forbes dotingly. Zuckerberg’s estimated personal net worth is $17.5 billion.

All indications are there are exciting times ahead for Facebook users as Zuckerberg and his crew work to improve the site’s appearance and user settings and make it even more enticing to advertisers eager to capture the attention of the 1.6 billion eyeballs that will potentially continue to be under it’s spell.  Their introduction of Timeline is a good indication of where they’re headed. This new feature, according to Facebook, “gives you an easy way to see the things you’ve shared, and collect all your best moments in a single place.”

Internet World Stats provides a compendium of online information sources that analyze and document Facebook’s amazing growth, and they make for very interesting reading. One of them is Famecount, an independent website which generates statistics across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other networking sites daily, and purportedly helps you track the trends and rank celebrities according to their popularity on online social networks. Rihanna, for example, has 49,203,450 Facebook fans, more than Justin Beiber (39,254,702), Shakira (44,145,550), Harry Potter (38,618,499), Barrack and Michele Obama (24,432,233 and 6,395,357 respectively) the Dalai Lama (2,416,076) and many others.

Another site, Checkfacebook.com, tracks data reported via Facebook’s advertising tool and helps marketers and researchers analyze the content, compare results with other users and understand how Facebook’s allure is spreading across the globe.

Altogether, those sites attest to Facebook’ remarkable dynamism and its developers’ almost messianic drive to connect virtually everyone on the planet with friends, family and associates once they have internet access. It’s all about creating a more open and connected world they claim.

And lest there be any doubt about his good intentions, or that he is on top of his game, Zuckerberg reassured followers of the Facebook Blog that he’s committed to safeguarding users’ privacy and making the site an enjoyable experience.

“When I built the first version of Facebook, almost nobody I knew wanted a public page on the internet. That seemed scary. But as long as they could make their page private, they felt safe sharing with their friends online. Control was key. With Facebook, for the first time, people had the tools they needed to do this. That’s how Facebook became the world’s biggest community online.  We made it easy for people to feel comfortable sharing things about their real lives … With each new tool, we’ve added new privacy controls to ensure that you continue to have complete control over who sees everything you share.”

Facebook’s Jake Brill has been equally reassuring, especially when it comes to protecting user accounts from being compromised by spammers and cyber criminals. Way back in July 2009 he admitted that one of the biggest challenges Facebook faces is helping people whose accounts have been compromised by hackers understand how it happened and how to fix the problem. “The vast majority of people who use Facebook have never experienced a security problem. For the small number who do, knowing how to fight back is key,” he added.

Notwithstanding the Facebook team’s seemingly genuine commitment, the site’s vulnerability to attacks is becoming increasingly apparent these days.

Earlier this month security researchers Seculaert reported that a “bank account-raiding worm” had begun spreading on the site and was stealing login credentials. The malware, dubbed Ramnit, had by then stolen 45,000 Facebook passwords and associated email addresses. Most of the victims were reportedly from the UK and France.

Seculert CTO, Aviv Raff said, “Ramnit started as a file infector worm which steals FTP credentials and browser cookies, then added some financial-stealing capabilities, and now recently added Facebook worm capabilities. We suspect that they use the Facebook logins to post on a victim’s friends’ wall links to malicious websites which download Ramnit.”

By Facebook’s own admission, hackers using stolen usernames and passwords try to break into at least 600,000 accounts every day on the site. They subsequently claimed on a Facebook blog post that “only 0.06 percent of 1 billion logins per day are compromised.”

Spokesman Barry Schnitt said, “600,000 times a day we stop a bad guy from getting access to an account even though he has guessed, phished, or stolen the login and password of an account … This is something we’re very proud of.”

Nevertheless, msnbc.com’s The Red Tape Chronicles, noted, “Facebook ID theft” is a serious problem which lays the foundation for all manner of other cyber misbehavior. Recently, msnbc.com reported on a woman who sent $2,000 to a criminal, believing she was communicating with her sister through Facebook chat. Other common scams include criminals hijacking friends’ accounts and trying to talk users into coughing up money. Much cyber-bullying also begins with compromised FB accounts.”

In November last year numerous Facebook users were reportedly flooded with graphic images depicting pornography, acts of violence and bestiality. Facebook’s Help Centre is evidently doing its utmost to help users tackle the security problems. Nonetheless the litany of woes that have been aired by users on the Facebook Blog itself, shows the challenge they’re up against.

And as if they don’t have enough to mull over, Reuters earlier this month disclosed that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s command center “routinely monitors dozens of popular websites, including Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, WikiLeaks and news and gossip sites including the Huffington Post and Drudge Report.” Reuters cited a “privacy compliance review” issued by DHS which says that  from at least June 2010, “its national operations center has been operating a “Social Networking/Media Capability” which involves regular monitoring of “publicly available online forums, blogs, public websites and message boards.”

The Reuters report has been corroborated by the news and current affairs website datacide.c8.com. It cites “previously undisclosed government documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation through Freedom of Information Act (FIOA) lawsuits” as providing “hard evidence” that the various spy agencies including the FBI, CIA, and others under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are monitoring social media sites, including Facebook, to gather “evidence” of criminality against suspects.

Off course, none of this detracts from the reality that Facebook is a force to be reckoned with, millions love it and it’s here to stay. What’s more, it can count on the financial and moral support from corporate advertisers who are more than happy to take advantage of the opportunities afforded them by their New Media darling. After all, what savvy business can resist the temptation to mine the treasure trove of  Facebook’s 800 million-strong captive audience. Maintaining their trust could ultimately prove to be Zuckerberg’s greatest challenge yet.

Download a Guide to Facebook Security for Young Adults, Parents, and Educators Facebook’s Security guide in PDF format. 

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3 responses to “Facebook gains 800 million subscribers, but how secure is the site?

  1. Facebook has done what many have only dreamed of and that is people giving personal information to a third party out of their free will. Like you mentioned its here to stay but lets see if they are able to retain the peoples trust. Acts like the forcing of timeline to everyone are a risky move for sure though.

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