Facebook Octazen purchase: Scraping troubles ahead?
It recently emerged, through news provider GigaOM, that Facebook had acquired little-known Malaysian start-up Octazen Solutions, but questions have arisen as to why the social networking giant has made the purchase. Some suggestions have hinted that Octazen is a talented web scraping company.
Following the revelations, TechCrunch spoke to an anonymous engineer at a competing company, who said that Facebook had bought "the web's most talented and creative scrapers that have gotten around everyone's rate limits and detection systems".
Another anonymous source, who TechCruch claimed had knowledge of Octazens product, spoke to the website, commenting: "Facebook is so sanctimonious about protecting their own user data through Facebook Connect, but Octazen has been scraping user data for years off terms of service and then reselling it."
TechCrunch claimed that its sources had indicated Octazen is particularly good at scraping data without being detected.
However, Facebook spokesman Larry Yu contacted the website to say that Octazen would not be collecting and storing user credentials directly to help with contact importing.
Responding to concerns over the start-up's use of data, Mr Yu commented: "The majority of their clients installed the software on their own servers, so Octazen would not have access to any user data in those instances."
He admitted that there was a case where one of the Malaysian company's clients ran an on-demand service, where the contact importing process would go through Octazen's machines, but the firm "only stored the username and a one-way hash of the user password".
Mr Yu insisted that this data was used for audit purposes and such details stored by Octazen cannot be used to login on behalf of a user.
Whatever the case, Octazen certainly seem pleased with the developments. In a statement it said: "After carefully evaluating this offer, our team believes this is a wonderful opportunity of which we must take advantage."
In previous comments, Mr Yu revealed a little more about why Facebook had chosen to go ahead with the acquisition. He told GigaOM that the social networking firm had admired Octazen's engineering team's work for "some time".
He added that Facebook is looking to acquire "experienced and accomplished" technical skills to help push the company forward "in its efforts to be the central way for people to connect and share information".
Regardless of whether data scraping problems will emerge from the partnership, the news comes at a time when the security of social networking websites is under of scrutiny.
Earlier this month, Sophos research showed that 57 per cent of social networking users said they have been spammed via social networking sites, representing a rise of 70.6 per cent from last year. In addition, 36 per cent reported being sent malware on such websites, an increase of 69.8 per cent.
Almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of the businesses surveyed by Sophos said they are concerned that employee behaviour on social networking sites leaves their businesses vulnerable to threats and puts corporate infrastructure, as well as the sensitive data stored on it, in danger.
Almost two-thirds (60 per cent) of respondents named Facebook as the social network they believed posed the biggest security risk, compared to the 18 per cent who named MySpace.
Commenting on the findings, security expert at Sophos Graham Cluley said: "The truth is that the security team at Facebook works hard to counter threats on their site - it's just that policing 350 million users can't be an easy job for anyone. But there is no doubt that simple changes could make Facebook users safer."