Facebook admits it needs to fight scams more efficiently

Facebook admits it needs to fight scams more efficiently

Summary: Facebook has changed its stance when it comes to removing scams and hoaxes. The social networking giant is working on a system to keep track of the offending images that keep going viral.

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Update: Anti-scam sites petition against Facebook baby charity scams

Five anti-scam websites (Hoax-Slayer, That's Nonsense, The Bulldog Estate, Facecrooks, and facebookprivacyandsecurity) have been fighting against a very viral type of Facebook hoax that exploits pictures of sick babies. After getting the media attention they asked for in an open letter to news organizations, Facebook responded by taking down many of the offending images. The company's message to users, however, remained the same: keep reporting the scams and we'll get to them eventually. Today I've learned that Facebook has decided it needs to do more to fight these viral scams and hoaxes.

"In addition to Facebook's regular ongoing improvements to our automatic spam detection systems, we are looking specifically at these types of violations and how they can be more quickly and efficiently taken down," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. I asked for what this meant, exactly. "We are very aware of the baby charity scam issue and are looking at some technical solutions that will make their removal quicker and more comprehensive (i.e. catching more instances of the same or similar images)," the spokesperson replied.

This is a huge win for these anti-scam websites because it means that Facebook has finally conceded that its "Report This Photo" feature isn't working as well as it should be. The company is thus looking to improve its automatic system for detecting malicious activity on the social network by scanning for hoax images that are constantly being shared again and again.

"FB do sometimes speak a load of baloney," Craig Haley, who runs That's Nonsense, told me. "Are they really telling us they cannot detect when a certain offending image is uploaded to the site, but are able to implement a system that auto-tags your friends in photos based on facial detection algorithms...if you banned the mere 5-6 photos that are causing the problems you've almost knocked the entire problem on the head straight away."

It appears that Haley is soon going to get what he wished for. Facebook has finally realized that these scams and hoaxes are getting out of hand.

For the record, the type of hoax that started all this typically involves photographs of ill and/or disabled children in hospitals being shared virally across Facebook, often asking users to donate for the child's medical expenses and/or promising that sharing the photo will result in donations from Facebook itself. Both claims are of course false. The real victims are not, however, the users who are being tricked – it's the families of these children who learn photos of their sick relatives are being used to perpetuate the scams and hoaxes.

Facebook currently relies on reports from users to stop the sharing of such images. The five aforementioned websites encourage users to report popular instances of offending photos, but when it comes to viral content, Facebook just doesn't react quickly enough. The quintet says it is playing catch up: new instances of these images are being uploaded and shared faster than users can report them in order for Facebook to take them down. That's why the group wrote a letter pleading for media attention: the hope was that more publicity would not only educate users about the problem but it could possibly also pressure Facebook into being more proactive when it comes to removing the hoaxes.

Their strategy appears to be finally working as Facebook wants to improve its algorithms. In the meantime, users should keep using Facebook's "Report This Photo" feature to help the company and inform their friends that no company or organization will ever donate money based on the number of times something is Liked, shared, and/or commented on.

I will be keeping in touch with Facebook on this matter and will let you know if anything further develops.

Update: Anti-scam sites petition against Facebook baby charity scams

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Topics: Social Enterprise, Security

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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9 comments
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  • Facebook it's self is a scam

    Will Facebook fight Facebook?
    sismoc
  • Scam?

    Facebook itself is a government funded (at the core) scam that operates as a data harvesting operation. Use at your own risk. Only have a profile with an avatar or nothing and no real data or names. Do not divulge your phone number. The CIA-NSA operation will fail if the data is erroneous.
    Jow_Blow
  • RE: Facebook admits it needs to fight scams more efficiently

    Yup true! Facebook is just not social networking but now it has turned to scammers paradise.The easiest way to cheat on people by scams.Unfortunately, there are still tons of similar facebook scams out there???We must stay out of this scams.And this could be only possible when we are aware regarding this.There is an iPhone app recently released, called Scam Detector, which exposes over 500 of the most notorious scams. It is worth checking it out, if you have an iPhone. The app is also online, if interested: www.scam-detector.com. Kinda cool, actually.
    gopaldas17
  • RE: Facebook admits it needs to fight scams more efficiently

    I'll believe that Facebook is serious about doing something about scams when they go after Zynga. Until then, it's a joke.

    http://techcrunch.com/2009/10/31/scamville-the-social-gaming-ecosystem-of-hell/
    barts185
  • RE: Facebook admits it needs to fight scams more efficiently

    I believe the problem with Craig Haley's suggestion is that these photos are often stolen from other people. What happens when Facebook deletes the original photo automatically?
    MarkKB
    • RE: Facebook admits it needs to fight scams more efficiently

      @MarkKB If were a photo I posted of a family member, having my original post deleted from FB would not be a big issue. After all, I would be happy to know that exploitation of that image is being stopped. I would also have the option to upload other pictures that might be meaningful to my real friends-and-family but not so likely to be useful to scammers.

      If you're worrying whether my only copy of the picture was the one posted to Facebook, who would be so stupid to do that? /sarcasm
      RoverDaddy
      • RE: Facebook admits it needs to fight scams more efficiently

        Of course, because the comments on a pic from family members are completely replaceable, right?

        The point is, if Facebook implements this, they will be roundly criticised (and rightfully so) by the media for deleting something [i]they don't have the right to delete.[/i] That's something they want to avoid at all costs, so avoiding Craig Haley's suggestion is in their best interests.
        MarkKB
  • RE: Facebook admits it needs to fight scams more efficiently

    Given what can and will be done with facial recognition, you should not publish a child's face on your blog. If you as an (ir)responsible adult want to publish your own face on the internet, that is your choice. But, nobody has the right to publish a child's face, nor anybody else's face without conscious approval.

    Between Facebook and Google, they are in the process of assuring that the worst fears of "1984" will occur.
    jorjitop
    • RE: Facebook admits it needs to fight scams more efficiently

      @jorjitop I agree. I can't imagine how pissed off I would be if my parents uploaded my entire childhood to Facebook or any other site for that matter. There will be lots of people pissed at their irresponsible parents in the years to come.
      SoupSandwich