Facebook user data advertised for public sale in Vietnam

By Bao Anh   March 26, 2018 | 07:45 pm PT
Facebook user data advertised for public sale in Vietnam
A figurine is seen in front of the Facebook logo in this illustration taken, March 20, 2018. Photo by Reuters/Dado Ruvic
Users’ full names, phone numbers, emails, addresses and what they are interested in are up for grabs with the right app.

Facebook is facing considerable business risks after revealing that it had failed to protect users’ privacy, but halfway around the world in Vietnam, the revelation should not be so shocking because personal data has been on sale for years.

“Selling 20,000 files with data of users that just bought new cars. Quality guaranteed for those who sell auto components, car insurance or those who modify autos!” is one of just a few advertisements that can easily be found on Facebook groups that were opened specifically for marketing purposes.

These advertisements on Facebook are not new in Vietnam, and are becoming more and more common.

The data on sale often includes users’ full names, phone numbers, emails, addresses and what they are interested in.

“For a long time, the personal data of Facebook users in Vietnam has not been something private,” Phan Van Hoi, an employee of a media company in Hanoi, told VnExpress.

There are many applications that can be used to screen users’ IDs and gather their information.

“For from a few dozen to hundreds of dollar each month, you can use one of these applications and screen the data for your own purposes,” he said.

“For example, applications will give you a list of a group's members with their phone numbers and emails. From this, marketing experts can easily approach their potential customers,” Hoi added.

But Duc Hoang, an information technology engineer said these applications can access users’ data partly because of the users themselves.

“There are many applications and pages that encourage users to use their Facebook account to register, and then ask users to allow them access to their public profiles, timeline posts, friend lists, dates of birth, their events and their photos, and most of the time, users just agree to those terms and conditions without even reading,” he said.

Hoang said the loophole in the privacy setting has allowed hackers to obtain this data, so users should stop sharing what they're doing with their lives on Facebook and set their personal information at “Only me” mode.

Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said last Wednesday that his company made mistakes in how it handled data belonging to 50 million of its users and promised tougher steps to restrict developers' access to such information, according to Reuters.

The world's largest social media network is facing growing government scrutiny in Europe and the U.S. about a whistleblower's allegations that London-based political consultancy Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed user information to build profiles on American voters which were later used to help elect Donald Trump in 2016.

Facebook shares fell as much as 6.5 percent, briefly dipping below $150 for the first time since July 2017, before recovering the day's losses to close up 0.4 percent at $160.06 on Monday.

The shares are still down 13 percent from March 16, when Facebook first acknowledged that user data had been improperly channeled to Cambridge Analytica. The company has lost more than $70 billion in market value since then, Reuters said.

The recovery on Monday may have been due to investors taking advantage of the lower stock price and the belief that the latest regulatory scrutiny may not ultimately hurt the company's relative long-term growth prospects, Wall Street analysts said.

Vietnamese people love social media and half of the population get their news through this channel, a survey of 1,000 Vietnamese people conducted by the Pew Research Center found in January.

Vietnam has around 64 million Facebook users, accounting for 3 percent of global Facebookers, according to a report released in July last year by We Are Social, a social media marketing and advertising agency.

More than half of the Vietnamese population of nearly 92 million is online, and people spend more than two hours each day on average on the social media network, said the report.

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