Facebook wants to get better at detecting fake profiles

It's a real problem for the social networking giant

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, speaking March 4, 2015, during a public Q&A in Barcelona, Spain.

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, speaking March 4, 2015, during a public Q&A in Barcelona, Spain.

Facebook is taking steps to improve how it detects fake profiles, particularly those created by people claiming to be someone else.

Fake profiles are a real challenge for Facebook, especially in developing markets. For example, in India there is a significant problem with men creating profiles that impersonate real women, a violation of Facebook's rules. This makes some women afraid of creating profiles.

It's part of a larger problem in India, where more men are on the Internet than women in comparison to other parts of the world, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday.

Facebook, Zuckerberg said, is tackling this problem and trying to become faster at flagging fake profiles, in part by getting better feedback from its users.

"This is something we take very seriously," said Zuckerberg, responding to a question about women's online safety during a public Q&A session in Barcelona, Spain.

Facebook terms of service prohibit users from creating an account for anyone other than themselves, unless they have permission from the other person. Users also can't create more than one personal account. Users can flag what they deem to be "imposter" accounts impersonating them from that person's profile page, or by filling out this form, if they're not on Facebook.

Still, Facebook has problems combating this. The user from India who submitted the question for the Q&A reported seeing more than 50 fake female accounts on the site.

Zuckerberg did not provide details about how exactly the company would be improving its processes and a company spokesman declined to comment further.

Last year, less than 2 percent of Facebook's billion-plus monthly users either created personal profiles when they should have instead used a Page-type account, or created profiles in violation of the company's terms, according to Facebook's most recent annual report. That amounts to millions of accounts.

That estimate might be inaccurate because it's based on an internal review of a limited sample of accounts, Facebook said in its report. Apparently, the company wants to improve the way it gathers information in this area, judging from Zuckerberg's comments.

The company has taken public steps to stop the creation of false or deceptive profiles in the past. For example, Facebook asked the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration last year to stop impersonating others to investigate suspects.

Meanwhile, the company is working to give people like drag queens more leeway to create profiles using different names, but still representative of who they really are.

The event on Wednesday was Facebook's fourth public Q&A -- modeled after its own internal meetings -- in which the company takes questions from a live audience and submitted from people online. It was held in Barcelona following Zuckerberg's appearance at the Mobile World Congress telecommunications trade show, during which he gave an update on Facebook's efforts to provide access to basic Internet services to people in developing countries through Internet.org.

More than 500 million people across world live in countries and regions where they can get access to basic Internet services through Internet.org, he said. The service is active in a handful of countries including India, Ghana, Colombia and Kenya.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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