We don’t know yet, but it’s likely we will by tonight (UTC).
A former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen, appeared on the TV show “60 Minutes” last night with some very worrying information drawn from internal Facebook documents, and it’s speculated that today’s outage is the consequence of an ‘outrage attack’ related to that broadcast. But this is only speculation, so far. It’s important to also know that there are simple technical explanations that have nothing to do with an attack, such as a Border Gateway configuration error. That said….
My best guess is yes, it’s a DNS hijack of some kind, but we won’t know anything with certainty for several more hours yet.
The Crux of the Accusations
Essentially the documents released by whistleblower Frances Haugen allege that Facebook has been clearly and persistently aware that their platforms cause serious harm, and that although there are measures they could take to reduce or even eliminate those harms, for profit’s sake they choose not to do so.
Most of the trouble derives from the intense degree to which Facebook (and in all fairness, many other platforms) penetrate the privacy of their users in order to profit from highly targeted advertising. To them, rather than being a human right to be respected, privacy in the digital world barely exists…
Companies like Twitter and Facebook and virtually all their clones are purpose-built as advertising platforms. That is the only reason they exist. It’s much like commercial television, which is also built to gain audiences (by broadcasting material that’s as salacious and sensational as possible, facts and balance be damned). The programs they show are simply the pheromonal attractants so that you also watch the TV commercials.
Likewise with social media sites… the ‘social’ part is there just to draw your attention. This is very effective because the content is very personal and therefore very appealing to its users. Television advertisers can only use statistical methods to determine who is watching because there’s no actual feedback mechanism — it’s a one-way broadcast. But websites can know exactly who is using them, and they are able to collect a stunning amount of very personal information about each person.
That information is used to build profiles of people and their political, sexual, religious, financial, relationships, physical location, brand preferences, and most other characteristics and interests. These profiles allow the site to offer to advertisers very precisely focused audiences of people likely to be interested in a given advertiser’s products or services. This makes the advertising dramatically more efficient (in terms of money spent) and effective.
All this is a long-winded way of explaining that by definition you have no privacy on a social media site — it’s designed from the ground up to extract information about you, regardless of how you configure their supposed ‘privacy settings’.
Fortunately, all is not lost in the quest to use digital resources in a much more private way. However, it requires quite a bit of effort on your part to do it effectively. In no particular order, you must…
- Use a good Virtual Private Network (VPN). This shields your actual internet location (something called an IP address) from the websites and other internet resources you use and is one of several steps you need to take to defeat being tracked when online. It also has the benefit of shielding your activity from your internet service provider (“ISP”) because the connections between your devices and the VPN company are encrypted (yes, many ISPs do log and sell your browsing history, active times of day, etc.). Just avoid the supposedly free VPN services, the performance is generally very poor. Search for the term “top-rated VPNs” to learn more. Typical cost: $5–6 per month.
- Browse securely. Google Chrome is built from the ground up to extract data about you. Instead, use a privacy-aware browser like “Brave” or “Opera”. I happen to prefer Opera, but they are both quite good. Where possible, you also want to install a browser plugin called “Privacy Badger”. It’s also a good idea to install something called “NoScript”. These plugins are easy to get and install in just seconds. Search for the italicized terms to learn more. Both the browsers and the plugins are free.
- Communicate securely. There are many good apps to do that, such as “Wickr” or “Signal”. Search for them to learn more. The one I prefer is called “Merlin” because it allows you to share files, make video calls and send messages in a completely encrypted environment. Your content is protected in-device because Merlin doesn’t need help visualizing anything… secure viewers, editors, and a media player are built-in, so everything stays encrypted all the time. It’s also encrypted inside the devices of the people you send stuff to, keeping them safe too. Plus it has a fully encrypted file manager to organize everything. Search for “Merlin. World” (with a dot between Merlin and World) to learn more. There’s a free version.
- Use a good virus protection program. There are several, and depending on what operating system you use there may even be one built-in. Search on the term “top-rated antivirus programs” to learn more. The typical cost is a few dollars a month if that.
- Make absolutely certain something called WebRTC is turned off in your browser. If left on it can reveal your true IP address even when you use a VPN. Depending on the browser you use, there are either settings or plugins that will shut this down. Most are free.
- Use a search engine that doesn’t track you, such as “Startpage” or “DuckDuckGo”. Search for the italicized terms to learn more. These are free services.
- Always keep your devices updated! Don’t ignore those security fixes and app and operating system updates, they really do matter. Updates are generally free.
- Turn off location sharing on all your mobile devices. Your weather app will give you an accurate forecast simply knowing your postal code, it doesn’t need your minute-to-minute GPS location. Likewise with virtually all other apps you use, even the seemingly innocent ones like some “flashlight” apps, which are free because they are actually scraping data from your device. This is even worse with many game programs. What you say in your text messages and the content of your address book should be nobody’s business but yours. Turn it all off. This costs nothing but a little time!
It’s sad that this entire business is so complicated and requires all of the preceding, but that’s the reality. The fact is, unlike the historical world of snail mail or phone calls where there are potent intrusion protections and anti-wiretapping laws, there are almost no such laws protecting your digital privacy.
You have to do it yourself.