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Forget the Dark Web, Facebook has a major criminal communities problem

A security researcher has found over 100 Facebook groups filled with criminals openly discussing crimes including identity theft, conducting DDoS attacks, and engaging in credit card fraud. 

Facebook shut down these groups after the security researcher Brian Krebs notified it of them, reports Graham Cluley, but it’s staggering that it wasn’t able to notice them itself, especially as some of the groups had existed for almost nine years.

After all, Cluley didn’t use any special tools or software to find the groups, he just searched for them using the social media platform’s publicly available search box. These groups even advertised the types of illegal activity they were engaged in in their Facebook group titles.

The incident raises serious questions about why a multi-national organisation is relying on user reports to find these groups, rather than proactively investigating them itself.

You’d expect this sort of activity on the Dark Web, where sites are hidden behind endless proxy servers and users are similarly anonymised, but Facebook is about the most mainstream website on the internet today. It’s like finding stolen credit card details for sale next to the checkout at Tesco.

Another victim of the Attention Economy

We suspect the reason these groups have been able to exist for so long is that there simply isn’t a big enough incentive for Facebook to remove them.

After all, while users engaged in criminal activity are browsing Facebook, they’re also engaging with the platform as much as any other user, if not more so. They’re loading in their personal information, and they’re looking at targeted ads.

This all comes back to a phenomenon known as the Attention Economy. Since the vast majority of the internet is provided for free, advertising has become the dominant means of generating revenue for websites.

This creates a conflict for companies like Facebook. Attention becomes the number one goal, even if what people are paying attention to is fake news, propaganda, or criminal Facebook groups.

It’s a dangerous situation, and it’s not going to change unless the risks of ignoring this criminal activity (such as strict legal penalties) outweigh the potential benefits of more users looking at more ads.

Why do you think it took so long for these groups to be discovered? Let us know @TrustedReviews.