Facebook is fighting identity theft in India, but it’s a global problem

Every Facebook account comes with a profile picture, but how can we prevent these often personal photos from being stolen?

Facebook has some ideas. In India, it recently introduced new measures – including a download guard and watermark – to fight the phenomenon, write Ritesh Chugh, Senior Lecturer (Information Systems Management), CQ University Australia, on the World Economic Forum website.

Stealing identifying information from social media sites is a favored form of identity theft. Typically it involves taking a user’s publicly available data such as addresses, phone numbers, gender, date of birth and photos, and using them to create fake online personas for the purposes of harassment or fraud.

This is a particular problem in India. It’s hard to get definitive data on the problem, but some reports suggest that identity theft accounted for 77% of financial fraud cases in India in 2015. Social media scams are also a growing concern.

The Experian — a leading global information services company, providing data and analytical tools to clients around the world said in a news release that “Identity Theft is the largest contributor to Fraud in India.”

Will it be effective?

In India, Facebook has rolled out a profile picture guard, which aims to prevent others from downloading or sharing the image on Facebook.

When uploading a profile picture, a border and shield symbol will now appear around it. The design feature adds an overlay akin to a watermark as a deterrent.

Facebook claims the design overlay may reduce the chances of profile picture copying by at least 75%. However, the pictures could still be captured via screenshot.

The ability to prevent a screenshot being taken of the profile picture is only available when using Facebook on Android devices and not on iOS, so far. There is also no restriction for users who take a screenshot from their desktop or laptop browsers.

The design overlay, however, may offer an effective deterrent to image theft.

While Facebook’s picture guard and picture watermark are not foolproof, they could well reduce identity theft and give Indian social media users some additional peace of mind. India is a test case but the countermeasures rolled out by Facebook should be available to everyone.

It’s not just India

In Australia, the government estimates the annual cost of identity crime to be A$2.2 billion. In 9% of cases the personal information of victims was stolen from social media. One thirdof reported dating and romance scams are perpetrated through social media.

Identity fraud represents 53% of all fraud in the United Kingdom, with 86% of identity fraud cases enabled via the internet.

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