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Vulnerabilities / Threats

8/19/2019
05:20 PM
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Instagram Added to Facebook Data-Abuse Bounty Program

Social media giant also launches invitation-only bug bounty program for 'Checkout on Instagram'.

Instagram users aware of a third-party application developer misusing their personal data can now report the activity to the company and potentially earn a reward for it.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, on Monday expanded its Data Abuse Bounty program to Instagram in a continuing effort to crack down on application developers and other third parties that are misusing user data on the company's social media platforms.

The issue has become a huge liability for Facebook. The US Federal Trade Commission recently fined Facebook a record-breaking $5 billion for allowing app developers and other third parties to access and use user data without proper notice and often in violation of the user's explicit privacy preferences.

The best known example of this is London-based political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica's controversial use of Facebook data to influence the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election. More recently, cybersecurity firm UpGuard reported on finding two instances of third-party services improperly gathering data on tens of millions of Facebook users and then leaving the data exposed in unsecured storage buckets on Amazon's AWS.

Under Facebook's newly expanded program, the company will reward people who report a third-party app currently or formerly operating on Instagram that might have misused user data. Anyone can submit a report to the company under the program if they have "specific and direct" knowledge of such misuse, Facebook said.

Reports that lead to the discovery of what Facebook calls "significant actionable misuse" will be eligible for rewards. The actual reward amounts will vary based on the impact and scope of the reported misuse. Examples of misuse include any disclosure, buying, selling, or transferring of user data in a manner that violates Instagram's data use policies for third-party app developers.

Facebook has not set an upper-limit on the rewards that are available under the Instagram data abuse bounty program. In the past it has paid out as much as $40,000 for a single high-impact report.

Bug Bounty Program for 'Checkout on Instagram'

In addition to the Instagram data abuse bounty program, Facebook Monday said it has also separately invited a select group of security researchers to test the recent Checkout on Instagram feature for security vulnerabilities. The feature allows Instagram users to directly buy and pay for products that they might see in an ad within the app itself.

The security researchers will receive special access to the Instagram checkout feature and will receive bounties for any new bugs that they might discover. All of the researchers that have been invited to participate in the bug bounty program have previously found high-impact security issues on Facebook, the company said.

Facebook conducted a similar bug bounty exercise before rolling out FB5, its new design for the social media platform earlier this year. One of the researchers invited to test the new design later discovered a security issue in it would have allowed an attacker to remove another individual's profile picture.

"Our bug bounty program has been instrumental in helping us quickly detect new bugs, spot trends, and engage the best security talent outside of Facebook to help us keep the platform safe," a Facebook spokesperson said. "The lessons learned from each report feed back into our larger security effort, making us better and faster at finding, fixing, and preventing bugs."

So far, Facebook has paid independent bug hunters and third-party security firms over $7.5 million in rewards for finding bugs on its platform. "Our mission is to stay ahead and work both internally and with our external industry and security partners to catch any instance of these bugs across our platform," the spokeswoman said.

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Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

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