My mother, in her mid-fifties who lives in Ranchi, Jharkhand, has been using Facebook for the last couple of years. It was an easy way for her to keep in touch with her relatives in the US and the UK. But, she had no clue that on Facebook lurk thieves, who steal identities of users and impersonate them to extract personal and financial information from them.
In March last year, she got a friend request on FB from her uncle who lives near London, which she happily accepted. The profile turned out a fake one, of someone who had stolen her uncle’s photograph and other personal information, including his phone number. He even called my mother on the phone, posing as her uncle.
The profile turned out a fake one, of someone who had stolen her uncle’s photograph and other personal information, including his phone number. He even called my mother on the phone, posing as her uncle
Soon enough, the fake uncle told my mother he was sending her some valuables — part of the family “legacy” — and asked her to pay the taxes and courier fees once the package arrives in Hyderabad, from where she would have to get it picked up. My mum started getting calls from fake bank officials who gave her details of a couple of accounts and asked her to transfer a total of Rs 7 lakh towards taxes etc, which she did.
Two days later, she figured out that the profile was fake. Very little of the lost money could be recovered. For a month after that, my mother didn’t touch Facebook.
Now the good news. She — and hundreds of millions on Facebook — can breathe a sigh of relief and use the platform safely.
Facebook on Thursday launched two new features — Profile Picture Guard and Profile Picture Design — to prevent unauthorised access to users’ profile pictures to prevent their misuse
The company has acknowledged the problem of identity theft. On Thursday, it launched two new features — Profile Picture Guard and Profile Picture Design — to prevent unauthorised access to users’ profile pictures to prevent their misuse.
Also read: Privacy concerns spill over offline: Five steps you must take to prevent identity theft
According to Facebook, they will help in reducing identity theft. Both the products are being launched in India first — they will be tested here and then rolled out in other countries.
The Profile Picture Guard is like a “blue border-and-shield surrounding the picture”, which doesn’t allow people to download and share the profile picture, in a message or any other external platform. Even a screenshot can’t be taken if it is the latest version of the Facebook Android app. “The profile photo by default is public. We have had instances of impersonation of user profiles been brought to our notice,” said Ankhi Das, public policy director at Facebook India.
Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin are hunting grounds for cyber criminals — sometimes to steal money, sometimes to use user identities to carry out other criminal and terrorist activities. According to data from the National Crime Records Bureau, cybercrime, which includes identity theft and phishing attacks, grew by 11.7% in 2015 to 8,045 registered cases in India.
In July last year, someone named Arshad Ali sent a Whatsapp text posing as the Commissioner of Delhi requesting all users to remove their profile picture, at the request of the “Whatsapp CEO”, as there was high risk of them being used misused by terrorist group ISIS. The message turned out to be a fraud one but the advice was well-grounded.
Also read: Call for #DigitalHifazat to combat violence against women in virtual spaces
Facebook has advocated safety in the past. In an open letter, CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote, “I have long expected more organizations and startups to build health and safety tools using technology, and I have been surprised by how little of what must be built has even been attempted. There is a real opportunity to build global safety infrastructure, and I have directed Facebook to invest more and more resources into serving this need.”
“But, the photo can downloaded, copied, uploaded, distributed, not by the actual owner of the photo” — Aarati Soman,product manager, Facebook
A team from Facebook headed by the company’s product manager Aarati Soman started holding conversations with people last year to understand what are women’s biggest concerns on Facebook. “The top concern is: what is happening with my photo is not what I was expected. When someone uploads a profile picture, he is the only one to share it with the world. But, the photo can downloaded, copied, uploaded, distributed, not by the actual owner of the photo,” said Soman.
Soman is an Indian who works with Facebook to make the social media platform safer for women, especially in the emerging countries — the next big bet for Facebook, from where it hopes most of its incremental users to come. India, meanwhile, already has nearly 200 million Facebook users, and is expected to contribute 30% to the company’s new user base
“These tools are uniquely fitted for women, but will be available for men… This is just the beginning (of India-first safety and security features),” said Soman, about the two new features.
“You can’t stop people from taking screenshots on the desktop browser… No matter how many features you add, the problem remains if your posts are public. Identity theft can still happen” — Saket Modi, cofounder of Lucideus Tech
However, Profile Picture Guard has some limitations — it can’t stop people from using another phone to take a photograph of the profile picture. So, Facebook has the other feature, Profile Picture Design, which allows users to overlay their profile picture with a watermark kind of design. According to Facebook’s internal estimates, this would deter people from copying the profile picture by 75%, said Soman.
The available filters for Profile Picture Guard are inspired by Indian themes and have ethnic names such as Rangoli, Kantha, Bandhani, Warli and Aari.
Also read: Why are Indian users so vulnerable to cyberattacks?
There are other loopholes as well. “You can’t stop people from taking screenshots on the desktop browser… No matter how many features you add, the problem remains if your posts are public. Identity theft can still happen,” said Saket Modi, ethical hacker and cofounder of Lucideus Tech, an ethical hacking and security firm.
Modi adds that these features should have been put in place long ago, and first-time social media and internet users are more susceptible to identity theft. “As people are getting increasingly educated about the internet and social media, identity theft will reduce. It’s a more of a problem for new users,” said Modi.
Lead visual: Angela Anthony Pereira
Update at 12.02pm June 22, 2017: Headline changed.