• Facebook and LinkedIn recently suffered data incidents that led to personal information like full names, emails and phone numbers being posted in identity marketplaces where cybercriminals buy and sell data.
  • While some have called the recent data leaks “data breaches,” technically and legally, they are not in the U.S. Rather, it is a legitimate and legal technique called “scraping.”
  • Even though these events are not data breaches, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) is creating an additional category of identity data compromises called “data leaks” to keep track of and report these kinds of events.
  • The Facebook and LinkedIn data leaks serve as good reminders to never post information online that you wouldn’t want people you don’t know or trust to see.
  • To learn about recent data breaches, consumers and businesses should visit the ITRC’s new data breach tracking tool, notified. 
  • For more information, or if someone believes they are the victim of identity theft, consumers can contact the ITRC toll-free at 888.400.5530 or via live-chat on the company website www.idtheftcenter.org.

Data Breaches, Exposures, and Leaks! Oh, My!

Welcome to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) Weekly Breach Breakdown for April 23, 2021. Each week, we look at the most recent and interesting events and trends related to data security and privacy. In the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy Gale of Kansas, along with the Scarecrow and Tin Man, are following the Yellow Brick Road through a dark and scary forest on their way to the Emerald City. They fear that wild animals are present as they chant “Lions…and Tigers…and Bears! Oh, my!” just before they meet the Cowardly Lion. Apply that principle to data security, and you get the title of today’s episode – “Data Breaches, Exposures, and Leaks! Oh, My!

Facebook and LinkedIn’s Recent Data Leaks

People may have seen media coverage about the recent data leaks at Facebook and LinkedIn. Personal information like full names, emails and phone numbers posted to user profiles were found in the identity marketplaces where cybercriminals buy and sell data.

In the case of Facebook, which would be the third-largest country in the world behind China and India if it were a Nation/State, the information on some half-a-billion people was exposed. Approximately 30 million live in the U.S. An even larger number of LinkedIn users were impacted by a similar event. To date, 837 million profiles have been exposed.

Facebook and LinkedIn Events Not Considered Data Breaches

These two recent data leaks have created quite the controversy in data privacy and security circles. People may have noticed that the ITRC has not referred to these events as data breaches. It’s because they technically and legally are not, at least under U.S. law. European Data Protection authorities have launched an investigation into both companies for potential violations of privacy laws. However, in the U.S., it’s a lot more complicated.

If you are a Facebook or LinkedIn user, you voluntarily provide the information posted to those and other social media websites. The companies try to limit the ability to copy user’s data. However, depending on how you configure your privacy settings, that information is, in fact, available for viewing by anyone. And if it can be seen, it can be misused.

Facebook and LinkedIn Suffered “Scraping”

There is a legitimate technique known as “scraping,” where companies copy large amounts of information that otherwise would require manual entry into a database. It is perfectly legal and typically involves getting permission and being transparent about how the data is used.

There are still some grey areas when it comes to private information being posted publicly on websites. In fact, there is a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court directly on this question of copying information from LinkedIn. Lower courts have said publicly posted information is fair game for scraping even if LinkedIn’s terms and conditions say it is not.

Facebook and LinkedIn Events Fall Between the Cracks of Current Laws

What makes the recent data leaks at Facebook and LinkedIn so troubling is that they fall between the cracks of existing laws. If a criminal gained access to a company’s customer records that included names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, that would be a crime and considered a data breach.

Copying the same information posted voluntarily and publicly is not considered illegal today. Also, the current laws did not envision the ability to copy millions of unrelated records and combine them into a single database that could be used to commit identity fraud.

The ITRC to Create “Data Leak” Category of Identity Data Compromises

Even though these recent data leaks are not data breaches, the ITRC is creating an additional category of identity data compromises to keep track of and report these kinds of events. We’re going to call this new category “data leaks.”

It is also a good time to issue a reminder. Be careful what you post online. If you don’t want people you don’t know or trust to see your private information, don’t post it online.

Contact the ITRC

If anyone has questions about keeping their personal information private and how to protect it, they can visit www.idtheftcenter.org, where they will find helpful tips on these and many other topics. 

If someone thinks they have been the victim of an identity crime or a data breach – like the recent data leaks – and needs help figuring out what to do next, they should contact us. People can speak with an expert advisor on the phone, chat live on the web or exchange emails during our normal business hours (6 a.m.-5 p.m. PST). Visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started. 

 Be sure to check out the most recent episode of our sister podcast, The Fraudian Slip. We will be back next week with another episode of the Weekly Breach Breakdown.