Fraud hits Facebook - Users exposed to identity theft

MILLIONS of Facebook users are having their personal details bought and sold online for as little as $5, exposing them to fraud, spam and identity theft.

For about the cost of a McDonald's Happy Meal, internet users can download the details of millions of Facebook users including their full names, email addresses and a link to their profiles.

One list obtained by The Sunday Mail contained the details of dozens of Australian Facebook accounts, including one with an Australian Federal Police email address and another from a major Australian newspaper.

The breach, discovered by a Czech blogger, has raised alarm bells with privacy experts, who have warned the information could be used by scammers to commit fraud or steal users' identities.

Some Queenslanders on the list had profiles that were completely open and contained sensitive private information including their birth date, home town, workplace and family relations.

One Gold Coast Facebook user who appears on the list told The Sunday Mail she was disturbed to find her personal details being traded for money online, particularly since her email address was not listed publicly on Facebook.

Australian Privacy Foundation vice-chairman David Vaile said Facebook profiles contained a ``massive honey pot'' of personal data, and it wasn't surprising to see such information leak out given the company's shifting privacy settings. He said the details contained on the list could form a ``reliable starting framework'' for identity theft and fraud.

University of Wollongong information systems expert associate professor Katina Michael said trading such data for money was a crime, but the $5 price tag was designed to expand the customer base while keeping sales under the police radar.

In a statement, a Facebook spokeswoman said the company had launched an investigation.

anthony.gough@news.com.au

Citation: Anthony Gough, November 18, 2012, "Fraud hits Facebook - Users exposed to identity theft", The Sunday Mail, p. 42.

Spy in the sky zooms in on illegal backyard pools

ILLAWARRA councils are using eye-in-the-sky technology to identify illegal backyard pools and prosecute owners.

Wollongong and Shellharbour councils say they are using satellite imagery, including Google Earth, to research and investigate pools.

In some cases, officers use Google Earth as a check against council's own aerial photographs to confirm the presence of a pool before sending staff to inspect the site for compliance issues.

"The evidence gathered from this inspection may, after many other steps, lead to prosecution or a fine," a spokesman for Shellharbour council said.

But the method concerns privacy advocate and University of Wollongong associate professor Dr Katina Michael, who said the practice of using satellite imagery blurred the line between public and private space.

"While it is legal, I don't believe it is ethical," she said.

"Ratepayers should at least be made aware their councils are using this technology."

The Mercury put the question of satellite imagery use to Wollongong and Shellharbour councils after reports a council in the United States had voted against using Google Earth to check the legality of pools.

Wollongong infrastructure systems and support manager Kim Batley said using aerial photographs for basic council mapping, planning, regulation and enforcement was standard across all levels of government.

He said Wollongong council had used aerial photography for many years and recently utilised Google Earth satellite imagery in a safety campaign on backyard swimming pools.

"Council made use of Google Earth as part of its research, cross-referencing against our own property database, but it was not used in enforcement," he said. "The use of Google Earth is not a common practice but proved helpful in this particular project."

The council's environment and development compliance manager David Day said satellite imagery and aerial photography would only be used to investigate pools after a complaint was made.

He said aerial photography technology would form only part of an investigation and the council would not issue a fine based just on aerial images.

Shellharbour's spokesman said council staff also used Google Earth, but a physical inspection would always be carried out to determine compliance.

Dr Michael, who is a board member of the Australian Privacy Foundation and a Kiama resident, said there were potential privacy issues in using satellite imagery but admitted it had not really been debated.

"It's grey territory," she said.

Dr Michael said residents who didn't want their homes included in Google Earth imagery could email Google or write to them requesting its removal.

Citation: Shannon Tonkin, September 22, 2010, "Spy in the sky zooms in on illegal backyard pools", Illawarra Mercury, p. 13.