updated 06:25 pm EDT, Wed May 11, 2011
Social network downplays impact of error
Security firm Symantec has issued a report claiming that Facebook has inadvertently provided third parties, such as advertisers, with access to personal information from user profiles. The social network was said to be using a flawed authentication system that sent access 'tokens' to advertisers, essentially opening user accounts to be combed for data.
"Needless to say, the repercussions of this access token leakage are seen far and wide," Symantec wrote in a blog post. "There is no good way to estimate how many access tokens have already been leaked since the release Facebook applications back in 2007."
The security company suggests users can change their password to invalidate the leaked access tokens, preventing third parties from improperly accessing personal data. Although the tokens may have already been used to access profiles, chats, images and messages, it is unclear if the vulnerability was actually exploited by companies.
Facebook downplayed the situation, claiming the issue was immediately resolved and "no private information could have been passed to third parties," according to comments posted by Computerworld. The social network also noted that the "vast majority" of tokens expire within two hours, while advertisers and developers are contractually barred from obtaining or sharing user information in ways that violate existing policies.