Friend or foe? Fake profile identification in online social networks

  • Michael Fire
  • Dima Kagan
  • Aviad Elyashar
  • Yuval Elovici
Original Article


The amount of personal information involuntarily exposed by users on online social networks is staggering, as shown in recent research. Moreover, recent reports indicate that these networks are inundated with tens of millions of fake user profiles, which may jeopardize the user’s security and privacy. To identify fake users in such networks and to improve users’ security and privacy, we developed the Social Privacy Protector (SPP) software for Facebook. This software contains three protection layers that improve user privacy by implementing different methods to identify fake profiles. The first layer identifies a user’s friends who might pose a threat and then restricts the access these “friends” have to the user’s personal information. The second layer is an expansion of Facebook’s basic privacy settings based on different types of social network usage profiles. The third layer alerts users about the number of installed applications on their Facebook profile that has access to their private information. An initial version of the SPP software received positive media coverage, and more than 3,000 users from more than 20 countries have installed the software, out of which 527 have used the software to restrict more than 9,000 friends. In addition, we estimate that more than 100 users have accepted the software’s recommendations and removed nearly 1,800 Facebook applications from their profiles. By analyzing the unique dataset obtained by the software in combination with machine learning techniques, we developed classifiers that are able to predict Facebook profiles with a high probability of being fake and consequently threaten the user’s security and privacy. Moreover, in this study, we present statistics generated by the SPP software on both user privacy settings and the number of applications installed on Facebook profiles. These statistics alarmingly demonstrate how vulnerable Facebook users’ information is to both fake profile attacks and third-party Facebook applications.


Online Social Network Privacy Setting Machine Learning Classifier Restriction Interface Friend Request 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank Elizabeth Huesing and Sawsan Brik for proofreading this article. Especially, we want to thank Carol Teegarden for her editing expertise and endless helpful advice which guided this article to completion. We also want to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Wien 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Fire
    • 1
  • Dima Kagan
    • 1
  • Aviad Elyashar
    • 1
  • Yuval Elovici
    • 1
  1. 1.Telekom Innovation Laboratories at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Department of Information Systems EngineeringBen Gurion UniversityBeer ShevaIsrael

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