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Facebook takes down 16,000 groups trading fake reviews after another poke by UK’s CMA

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Facebook has removed 16,000 groups that were trading fake reviews on its platform after another intervention by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the regulator said today.

The CMA has been leaning on tech giants to prevent their platforms being used as thriving marketplaces for selling fake reviews since it began investigating the issue in 2018 — pressuring both eBay and Facebook to act against fake review sellers back in 2019.

The two companies pledged to do more to tackle the insidious trade last year, after coming under further pressure from the regulator — which found that Facebook-owned Instagram was also a thriving hub of fake review trades.

The latest intervention by the CMA looks considerably more substantial than last year’s action — when Facebook removed a mere 188 groups and disabled 24 user accounts. Although it’s not clear how many accounts the tech giant has banned and/or suspended this time it has removed orders of magnitude more groups. (We’ve asked.)

Update: We understand that the regulator has focused on the removal of groups trading misleading/fake reviews, rather than individual accounts — as banned or suspended users are able to create new profiles, whereas removing the group in which fake reviews are being traded is seen as a more effective way to impact and deter the activity.

Facebook was also contacted with questions but it did not answer what we asked directly, sending us this statement instead:

“We have engaged extensively with the CMA to address this issue. Fraudulent and deceptive activity is not allowed on our platforms, including offering or trading fake reviews. Our safety and security teams are continually working to help prevent these practices.”

Since the CMA has been raising the issue of fake review trading, Facebook has been repeatedly criticised for not doing enough to clean up its platforms, plural.

Today the regulator said the social media giant has made further changes to the systems it uses for “identifying, removing and preventing the trading of fake and/or misleading reviews on its platforms to ensure it is fulfilling its previous commitments”.

It’s not clear why it’s taken Facebook well over a year — and a number of high profile interventions — to dial up action against the trade in fake reviews. But the company suggested that the resources it has available to tackle the problem had been strained as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated impacts, such as home working. (Facebook’s full year revenue increased in 2020 but so too did its expenses.)

According to the CMA changes Facebook has made to its system for combating traders of fake reviews include:

  • suspending or banning users who are repeatedly creating Facebook groups and Instagram profiles that promote, encourage or facilitate fake and misleading reviews
  • introducing new automated processes that will improve the detection and removal of this content
  • making it harder for people to use Facebook’s search tools to find fake and misleading review groups and profiles on Facebook and Instagram
  • putting in place dedicated processes to make sure that these changes continue to work effectively and stop the problems from reappearing

Again it’s not clear why Facebook would not have already been suspending or banning repeat offenders — at least, not if it was actually taking good faith action to genuinely quash the problem, rather than seeing if it could get away with doing the bare minimum.

Commenting in a statement, Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, essentially makes that point, saying: “Facebook has a duty to do all it can to stop the trading of such content on its platforms. After we intervened again, the company made significant changes — but it is disappointing it has taken them over a year to fix these issues.”

“We will continue to keep a close eye on Facebook, including its Instagram business. Should we find it is failing to honour its commitments, we will not hesitate to take further action,” Coscelli added.

A quick search on Facebook’s platform for UK groups trading in fake reviews appears to return fewer obviously dubious results than when we’ve checked in on this problem in 2019 and 2020. Although the results that were returned included a number of private groups so it was not immediately possible to verify what content is being solicited from members.

We did also find a number of Facebook groups offering Amazon reviews intended for other European markets, such as France and Spain (and in one public group aimed at Amazon Spain we found someone offering a “fee” via PayPal for a review; see below screengrab) — suggesting Facebook isn’t applying the same level of attention to tackling fake reviews that are being traded by users in markets where it’s faced fewer regulatory pokes than it has in the UK.

Screengrab: TechCrunch

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Where Will Meta Stock Be in 1 Year?

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Meta Platforms (META -3.08%) had an awful 2022. Revenue growth stalled at just the wrong time for the social media business, leading to collapsing earnings in the nine months that ended in late September. The company will close out 2022 with its Q4 earnings announcement in early February that’s expected to show a 3% sales drop.

Wall Street isn’t optimistic about the year ahead, either. Most Wall Street pros forecast that revenue will rise in the low-single-digit-percentage range as annual earnings decline for a second straight year.

Let’s look behind those headline projections for clues to where the stock might be headed as management works to turn the Facebook owner around.

Meta is growing faster

The immediate challenge for CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his team is to get the business back on a growth footing. The good news is that this goal is more achievable than you might think after a glance at the company’s 4% year-over-year sales decline in Q3. Strip out currency exchange rate shifts and that figure becomes a 2% increase, after all.

Meta is still gaining users, too, even on its most mature platform, Facebook. It’s not hard to see how a sustained focus on engaging videos in the Reels service can contribute to improving sales trends in 2023. “The fundamentals are there for a return to stronger revenue growth,” Zuckerberg told investors in late October. Ideally, executives will back up those words with more concrete signs of a rebound in the early February update.

Meta has been slashing costs

Meta entered the 2022 year with some of the best finances in the tech industry. But the scale of its negative turn here has been hard to watch.

META Operating Margin (TTM) Chart

META Operating Margin (TTM) data by YCharts

Operating income through the first three quarters of the year dropped to $22.5 billion from $34.2 billion. Net income in that period fell by more than $10 billion to $18.5 billion.

Watch for Meta to be brutal in slashing costs this year so it can end this profitability slide. The company already got the ball rolling here as it closed offices and announced layoffs in some areas. Yet these moves likely won’t start affecting the bottom line in a big way until future years, perhaps when sales growth is accelerating again.

The big questions Meta needs to answer

Meta isn’t skimping on the investments that management thinks will drive growth over the next several years. The Reality Labs division, home to the Quest VR brand, is projecting accelerating losses in 2023 as spending ramps up in areas like hardware and the metaverse. The company should add more context about these projects when it closes out fiscal 2022 and issues its first detailed projection for the new year ahead.

The stock’s path in 2023 will depend in part on things that are outside Meta’s control, including the pace of advertising spending and consumers’ discretionary tech budgets.

Yet there’s still plenty the company can do to improve sales and profitability trends over the next several quarters. And if both metrics have started rebounding, Meta shares have a good chance at outperforming the market in 2023 after posting their worst year yet last year.

Randi Zuckerberg, a former director of market development and spokeswoman for Facebook and sister to Meta Platforms CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Demitri Kalogeropoulos has positions in Meta Platforms. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Meta Platforms. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Facebook Could Be Messing With Your Phone. Here’s What We Know

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Facebook Could Be Messing With Your Phone. Here's What We Know

Battery life is one of the most important aspects of smartphone usage — without solid battery life, a phone becomes far less useful. Even worse are instances when a phone’s battery drains faster than expected for no apparent reason, which may result in the user being caught off guard with a dead battery while away from a charger.

That’s the issue that prompted Hayward’s complaint, according to The New York Post, which quotes the data scientist as saying, “I said to the manager, ‘This can harm somebody,’ and she said by harming a few we can help the greater masses.” Hayward was allegedly fired in November 2022 after refusing to engage in the negative testing practices, leading to the lawsuit soon after. The big question is whether this practice — assuming the allegations are accurate — is widespread at Meta. 

If so, what other kinds of negative testing may be taking place without a user’s knowledge, and how might those tests impact their experiences with the company’s products? Hayward claimed that during his time working for the company, Meta gave him a training document that allegedly described types of negative tests that may be conducted — the document was reportedly titled, “How to run thoughtful negative tests.” Unfortunately, specific examples of those tests weren’t provided, and Meta hasn’t commented on the allegations to clarify how its testing practices may impact users, if at all.

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Meta awarded researcher a $27,200 bug bounty for glitch that bypassed Facebook 2FA

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Meta awarded researcher a $27,200 bug bounty for glitch that bypassed Facebook 2FA

Facepalm: Meta recently implemented a centralized login system to make it easier for Instagram, Facebook, and Meta (VR) users to manage their accounts. Unfortunately, in setting up the 2FA system, engineers overlooked a glaring failure regarding attempt limitation.

A freshman security researcher named Gtm Mänôz noticed the bug in July 2022. While looking for his first bug bounty to present at BountyCon 2022, Mänôz started playing around with the Meta Accounts Center interface, which manages all Meta accounts, adding similar functionality as Google’s one-stop login for its various services (YouTube, Gmail, Docs, etc).

He noted that the page allowed users to associate a phone number with their accounts when linking them. Users simply enter their phone number and then the six-digit 2FA code the system sends them. However, Mänôz discovered that if the wrong code is entered, the Account Center just asks the user to reinput it instead of sending a new code.

Furthermore, there was no limit on how many failed attempts one could enter into the verification box. This oversight allowed Mänôz to brute force the 2FA on his own account to associate his phone number with another Facebook profile. The only warning comes after the phone number is stolen in an email from Meta to the victim informing them that it has been linked to another user’s account.

While the harmfulness of this exploit is mainly limited to a bothersome re-establishing of the owner’s phone number, it effectively disables 2FA on the victim’s account, albeit temporarily. Until the target takes action, they are open to password phishing attacks.

“Basically, the highest impact here was revoking anyone’s SMS-based 2FA just knowing the phone number,” Mänôz told TechCrunch.

Mänôz notified Meta of the bug in September, and it patched the vulnerability immediately. A spokesperson said that when Mänôz found the problem, the Meta Accounts Center was still in beta and only available to a small number of users. The representative also noted that Meta’s investigation revealed no spikes in the usage of that feature, indicating that hackers hadn’t exploited it.

Despite the relatively low-treat of the glitch, Meta awarded Mänôz a $27,200 bug bounty. Not too shabby for his first bug hunt.

Meta has stumbled a few times in the last couple of years regarding the login features of its various accounts. In 2021, it caused a mild panic when it logged everyone out of Facebook when reconfiguring the website. Last year, it purposefully locked many users out of their accounts for not enabling “Facebook Protect” by a deadline set by an official Meta email that looked suspiciously like a phishing scam.

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