A View from Tom Simonite
New Facebook App Scans Your Social Circle for Danger
Alongside FarmVille and Mafia Wars you can now add security software to your account.
Running a (Windows-based) computer without antivirus is asking for trouble, and an e-mail system without a spam filter is unusable. How long before it’s impractical to use Facebook without a dedicated app to protect you from spammers and scammers? It’s a question raised in my mind by the debut of what appears to be the first security app for Facebook. You install BitDefender’s safego, which is currently in beta, just as you would a game like FarmVille or any other of the many apps out there. Rather than letting you throw sheep at your friends, though, it scans your wall, inbox and any comments on your profile for malicious links that might lead to sites that try to install malware or hijack your account details. It also checks your privacy settings and offers reminders and tips on how much you are sharing and how to change those settings.
The privacy meter above is just one of the app’s features, grabbed from my brief trial of the app before writing this post. See the app for yourself here and for an example of what it looks like when an attack is spotted see this screengrab. I must be lucky enough to have trustworthy friends because no bad links were detected when I tried it; but nor did I receive any warnings on privacy when I briefly made all my information fully public.
All this is made possible by the APIs that Facebook that lets developers build on top of the platform. But Facebook doesn’t yet allow everything that such software really needs. An app can’t, for example, automatically flag up suspicious links for you when you’re browsing another person’s wall. The only thing it could do is post a comment on a suspicious link, a feature BitDefender plans to add. “That’s not ideal,” Catilin Cosoi, head of BitDefender’s threats lab, told me last week as work continued to finish the app, “but that does mean that other users who don’t have the app can see the warning too.”
Whether apps like safego are necessary yet is debatable. There is evidence that those spreading spam through Facebook are becoming more organized but it is not an everyday occurrence. It’s clear, though, that the number of attacks will only increase, and the fact that other popular platforms like email have proven hard to defend doesn’t bode well.
I doubt Facebook will welcome apps like safego though. Its very existence detracts from the feeling of safety the site elicits with its real-life friendship-centric feel. Why would you need such an app if Facebook were safe? It could lead some users to think Facebook isn’t up to the task of protecting its users.