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Why The Facebook Outage Should Be A Wakeup Call

If you haven't heard about this, I think I am deeply envious of you. It likely means you live a life that has next to no contact with the news at large, and especially social media. But, for the other 99% of us we all know Facebook (and it's child companies like Instagram, WhatsApp, and some others all went offline on October 4th somewhere in the middle of the day (EST). Conspiracy theories about the outage started in record time, but the real reason behind it all - at least from what they're disclosing - is an issue with BGP. You're likely wondering what BGP is, but frankly you should be a hell of a lot more concerned with the hidden implications of what this outage meant for many. 

On The Surface 

Sure, a bunch of people couldn't text one another on WhatsApp, your crazy Aunt wasn't able to post her latest conspiracy or anti-mask rhetoric on Facebook, and nobody could find out what their friends were eating for lunch that day on Instagram. Who cares, right? Certainly not me, and a lot of people are thinking "what's the big deal". If that's all this was, then it's truly not. As a whole, people spent -way- too much time on social media, but this outage was way worse than a lot of people realize - most notably the general public. If this was something like Snapchat or TikTok, it really would just be an inconvenience for a bunch of angsty teens, however Facebook has ingrained itself into people's lives far more than they realize - without them even realizing it.

Each new "feature" is just another way for them to get deeper rooted into your life making it a lifeline for any aspect of your life it can get a hold on. If you're not on Facebook, how will you ever be invited to that party next weekend? How about all the people you talk to on Messenger, yet you don't have their actual phone numbers. How many people are buying and selling stuff on their marketplace section, or are using their dating feature. There's groups dedicated to almost anything you could imagine - from peer support groups for some rare illness, to places where flat earthers can discuss how they'll piss more of their money away trying to prove their insane theory. The implications of those features going down is bad enough, but you'd think none of that would be life changing for a matter of a day, right?

 

So, What's Deeper 

WhatsApp is used by over 2 BILLION people worldwide, reportedly. That's absolutely insane. Originally hailed as this amazing messaging app for it's end-to-end encryption, I wouldn't trust Facebook with anything involving privacy seeing as they've proven at every turn they should never be trusted. That aside, WhatsApp is effectively a lifeline for hundreds of millions of people who have no other way to communicate with one another. They can't simply text, email is impossible, and this cheap Android phone is all they have. People in impoverished countries, those on social assistance, and certainly those who are at the bottom of the financial spectrum. People use it to communicate with family members in another country, and the list goes on and on. The same could be argued for messenger, but it's not entirely the same problem. WhatsApp is also used in business.

If you were to ever ask me, running a business that relies on another platform that's effectively "free" is a damn risky move. More and more businesses are being built using WhatsApp as a primary communication platform. Just a couple months ago I had a use case where people needed to buy LTE SIM cards for devices that specifically were going to be used for WhatsApp communications between drivers and dispatch centers. I can't even begin to explain how ridiculous that is, but hey - I'm not their platform architect, but you can be damn sure if I was in the room when that idea was floated, I'd have had strong opposition. 

Facebook also controls Oculus, which is a virtual reality headset. You can buy them for a couple hundred bucks and apparently they're pretty bad-ass. However, when you buy something you think you own it, right? Not so much with Oculus. To use your headset, you MUST have a Facebook account. When you buy games or applications to use with your Oculus, you do so with Facebook. Those purchases are then linked to your account. Use a different account for Oculus? You don't have your purchases anymore. Don't have the ability to login to Facebook? Well, that expensive headset is nothing more than a paperweight now. 

But the most concerning thing is the 3rd party authorization service it provides - just in the same way Google does.

 

What's 3rd Party Authentication, You Ask? 

Ever go to sign up for a website and instead of creating an account with the website or service natively, you're offered to "Sign In with Facebook"? Ya, That. Basically what happens is when you use this option when creating your account on paulsstupidwebsite.com, it sends a request to Facebook which then pulls some information about you such as your name, profile photo, maybe some personal information, and whatever else it deems important. But, it also creates an account on their platform using your Facebook ID. Now, when you go to their website you more or less just have to be logged into Facebook and you're logged into that site too. It recognizes you and saves you the hassle of having to remember yet another login. Nice, right? That's the selling feature. Simplicity.

But what would happen if Facebook just stopped responding to those authentication requests? What would happen if Facebook's servers ceased to exist? Well - you'd have what happened on October 4th. And, you wouldn't be able to get into paulsstupidwebsite.com until those servers started responding again. What would happen if they never responded, like... ever again? Well, your account would be effectively lost along with any data that you had over on paulsstupidwebsite. But what if it wasn't paulsstupidwebsite, and instead was something like your banking institution. Obviously this isn't the case as banks would never use such shoddy ideas, but I use that example to illustrate the severity here. Many dating services like Bumble, Tinder, and Hinge use Facebook as it's main authentication mechanism. If you're not out in the dating scene you certainly wouldn't care, but what if you're running a Plex server? Or you want to access your FitBit? Both of them use Facebook for authentication. That list is in the hundreds of thousands of major services that were effectively down for a lot of users because they couldn't login, seeing as Facebook wasn't responding.

 

Now, What If Facebook Just.... Deleted You? 

We all know that Facebook's community standards are (at best) nearly impossible to understand and are extremely vague. What's acceptable for one user will find a different user banned for the exact same thing. People are locked out of their accounts for seemingly no reason, and to contest this is a nearly impossible task seeing as there's no support number, and contacting them is basically impossible. When you step back, you'll realize that Facebook not only controls you on their website, but they also control you in so many other aspects of your life suddenly. From your purchases suddenly not working anymore, to removing your access to a whole ton of other services they have really no part in. There's endless examples of people losing access to their Facebook account for absolutely no reason, and no way to figure out why, or restore it. Sure, you could sign up for new accounts, but that information you once had is all inaccessible, if not completely gone forever. Are you willing to take that risk?

 

What's The Solution? 

First, you should _never_ sign up for any service using 3rd party authentication unless you absolutely have to. Many of the websites and services that offer this feature also offer ways to sign up using your email address, or to create a direct native account with them. That's always going to be the preferred method. If you already have accounts built using this authentication, look to see if there's ways to convert them to a native account with the site/service, or at very least find a way to allow access to your account by a different means. You can quickly view what sites or apps you've used Facebook authentication on by visiting Settings > Security > Apps & Websites at this url : https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=applications&ref=settings. In the end, the real solution is simply to delete Facebook entirely, but that's a much tougher argument to make in a world where more and more people have let Facebook control their lives. Break free, you'll thank me one day -  but more importantly, NEVER let a company control your information, your business, and most certainly your life.  

 

 

 

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