Protecting Facebook Users Makes Good Websense

The only friend I haven’t been able to find on Facebook is a reliable security system. But it seems that may be changing.

At, no doubt, vast expense, Websense and Facebook have paired up to protect users from malware sites and other dangerous external links. This should lessen the effect of this growing danger on Facebook.

The arrangement sounds very useful but, like most of these external threat security measures, it does more to safeguard the company from blame. It is still up to the user to decide whether or not to go to the site but that’s better than no warning at all.

Buried In The Shopping Maul

Facebook’s problem with security is that it wants all the useful information contained in our conversations and interactions to itself for advertising purposes. This brings it close to the edge of legality where data protection issues are concerned. If security was too tight in Facebook, it is possible that concerned users, of which there are many, would leave in great numbers whenever the company adds new ad-getting services.

These advertising revenues are what makes Facebook tick. Perhaps the company should have taken a leaf out of the Apple book of user prospecting by charging for some services. With an alternative income stream, the need to target advertising would be a less pressing concern in the daily running of the network.

From a user viewpoint, the heavy advertising on Facebook creates an environment rife with con tricksters looking for mugs. Just recently Southwest Airlines was apparently offering tickets to any destination in America. All the would-be holidaymakers had to do was to click on the link, “Share” it with friends and comment “Southwest is the best” on the landing page. All this despite the original ad saying that the offer was only open to a “few select people”.

Graham Cluley blogged on the Naked Security website that he investigated from the safety of a friendless Facebook research page belonging to Sophos, the company he works for. Despite not sharing the link or commenting, he was delighted to hear that he was a winner – everyone likes to be a winner.

This took Cluley  into one of these tangled advertising webs where you end up in ad-click hell until you get bored – but each click earns the scammers a little bit of cash. As the Scots say “every mickle mak’s a muckle” and the only winners are the tricksters as the mini-money builds into maxi-profits.

Despite this being an archetypal Facebook con, there are enough social suckers in the 500 million membership to make these scams worthwhile. How successful the Websense trap will be against the honeyed words of the subversive advertisers has yet to be seen.

Meanwhile, Facebook will continue to add “value” with more and more ways of squeezing useful information in regimented silos to make data mining easier. Naturally, these will run contrary to best practices and be set open for “our benefit” and security switches will be located in an unlit corner of a basement at Facebook HQ behind a mesh of impenetrable verbiage.

If Websense is protecting us from the scammers, who will protect us from Facebook?

Eric Doyle, ChannelBiz

Eric is a veteran British tech journalist, currently editing ChannelBiz for NetMediaEurope. With expertise in security, the channel, and Britain's startup culture, through his TechBritannia initiative

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