Google mistakenly started handing out a reporter's cellphone number to people searching for Facebook tech support

If Facebook is broken for you in some way large or small, you can't call them to complain — the company doesn't have a customer service number, it has a "support portal" for people suffering with the service, which combines the worst of autoresponders with the worst of underpaid, three-ring-binder constrained support staff to make a system that runs like a cost-conscious version of Kafka's "The Trial."

This means that literally millions of people are constantly searching for a support phone number for Facebook, and that's created chaos. On the one hand, you have the "Facebook tech support" scammers: we get hundreds of scammy Facebook support phone number submissions to our suggest-a-link form, and most of them seem to originate in India and to be meticulously, repeatedly hand-typed (based on our anti-fraud metrics that have totally, utterly failed to reduce the unstoppable flood of these submissions — we also get floods of "Microsoft tech support" and "Amazon tech support" etc scam submissions).

Google gets lots of these queries, too (that's why the scammers are relentlessly trying to get posted here, so that Google will send these frustrated searchers to their fraudulent phone numbers). When Google gets lots of phone number queries, it tries to come up with an algorithmic solution: it looks for high-rated pages for the search term that also have recognizable phone numbers in their bodies, extracts the phone number and puts it in a "search box" at the top of the results page.

Enter Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai (previously), a top security reporter for Motherboard. Franceschi-Bicchierai has done top reporting on Facebook and its many security breaches, and he also lists his Signal phone number (which is also his cellphone number) on every post, so that tipsters can send him anonymous leads. Ironically, some of the reporting that landed Franceschi-Bicchierai's number at the top of the results was his articles about scammy Facebook support numbers.

Google's algorithm observed that Motherboard articles are highly ranked in response to Facebook queries, and that they included a phone number (Franceschi-Bicchierai's cellphone) and then started handing out Franceschi-Bicchierai's number to anyone who was angry at Facebook. Terrible hilarity ensued. Franceschi-Bicchierai is lucky enough to have contacts within Google, and so, eventually, Google stopped telling dissastisfied Facebook users to call his cellphone at all hours of day and night to complain.

The EU has just passed the new Copyright Directive, which will force Facebook to evaluate every post every user makes and take down anything that an algorithm deems to be a copyright infringement (the posts will be compared to an unvetted, unverified open database of "copyrighted works" that anyone, anywhere can add anything to). If your work is improperly censored, this is the standard of customer support from Facebook that you will encounter as you get in line behind literally millions of other people to get it unblocked (if Facebook's copyright censorship algorithm is 99% accurate, it will make errors 1 out of 100 times, which means that out of the billions of posts it gets every day, it will make millions of errors).

Later, while at my desk, someone else calls up.

"I'm trying to get a hold of Facebook," a man says. "They are taking my American rights away from me. They're anti-free spech, anti-American, they're pro Muslim."

The man says Facebook disabled his account after he wrote a post that, he explains, "wasn't even horrible."

Google Thought My Phone Number Was Facebook's and It Ruined My Life [Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai/Motherboard]