Marise Payne hits back at Chinese embassy press conference, says ‘credible evidence’ of abuse

Foreign Minister Marise Payne says there are “credible reports of the systematic abuse and torture” of Uyghur women in response to an extraordinary press conference by the Chinese embassy.

Australian journalists were invited to a press conference on Wednesday where they were shown Chinese government propaganda videos denying the abuse of the Muslim minority Uyghur population in Xinjiang.

Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye lashed out at what he described the “distorted coverage” of Xinjiang, and slammed Canberra for its criticism of Chinese human rights abuses.

But Ms Payne said Canberra would continue to be “very clear” about its “deeply held concerns” over Xinjiang, where human rights groups estimated a million Uyghurs had been detained in internment camps.

RELATED: China denies abuse of Uyghurs in bizarre press conference

“These are matters which we have raised at the highest level,” she told Sky News on Thursday.

“I made a statement with my New Zealand counterpart at the end of last month about these issues, and we work closely with our international counterparts.”

Ms Payne claimed credible reports showed the “systematic abuse and torture of women” in Xinjiang, alongside re-education camps, religious oppression and forced sterilisations.

She said Australia had consistently pushed for the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to be granted “open and free” access to the region, but had been rejected by the Chinese authorities.

In surreal scenes, Australian journalists were shown a video – entitled “Xinjiang is a Wonderful Land” – claiming the region had been “transformed … into a land of life, a land of thriving vitality”.

Various Uyghur Muslims were videoed denying their religious freedoms had been curtailed, while representatives from the Chinese regimes staunchly denied wrongdoing.

Beijing has insisted its crackdown in Xinjiang was a response to a separatist insurgency driven by Uyghurs, and denied human rights abuses in the camps.

Liberal backbencher Eric Abetz described Wednesday’s event as a “sickening display of propaganda”, but Ms Payne was more reticent to criticise the display directly.

“The first thing that I would reinforce is the value of a free media, a free press, and free speech,” she said.

“So that opportunity is available to diplomats in Canberra … I think that speaks volumes about the principles that do underpin our democratic system.”

Mr Cheng declared China would “not swallow the bitter pill of sanctions” in what was deemed a warning to Canberra.

Ms Payne stressed Canberra had not imposed sanctions on Beijing, but said it had been “clear and consistent” in using international mechanisms to address human rights abuses.

“Australia has always been very clear, not just in relation to (the abuse of Uyghurs), but in relation to matters of human rights more broadly,” she said.

“Where they are of concern to us we will make clear our views, no matter where they occur.”

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Melbourne couple allegedly kept a ‘slave’ who was trapped in the home

An Indian grandmother was “essentially a prisoner” at the home of a Melbourne husband and wife who allegedly kept her as a slave for eight years, jurors have been told.

The Mount Waverley couple, who cannot be named for legal reasons, have pleaded not guilty to possessing a slave and exercising the right of ownership of a slave between July 2007 and July 2015.

“She was essentially a prisoner in that house,” prosecutor Richard Maidment QC told jurors during his closing remarks on Thursday.

No key was required to keep her a prisoner in the home because of the level of control the couple exerted over the woman, he told the court.

They caused a serious interference with the woman’s fundamental rights and freedoms, including her rights to seek medical and welfare treatment, he said.

The alleged slave, now in her 60s, told investigators that she was not allowed to leave the property and was physically locked in the home when the family went overseas.

She had come to Australia in July 2007 on a one-month tourist visa after two earlier stints of working for the couple.

The grandmother hoped to earn enough money to support her family in southern India and buy herself a home, Mr Maidment told the jury.

Once she was returned to India the woman believed she would get paid everything the couple owed to her, he said.

“This was the carrot in this situation,” he said.

“She believed them and didn’t expect the ways they turned out the way they did.”

Allegations the woman was beaten with a frozen chicken, had hot water thrown on her and was hurt with knives were a “symptom” of the condition of slavery.

“(The wife) felt free to treat her in that way because she was a slave. She wasn’t a slave because she was treated in that way,” Mr Maidment explained.

The husband was as involved as his wife in creating the situation of slavery, he said.

“It did cost them next to nothing to have somebody on tap, 24/7, 365 days a year,” the prosecutor said.

The money the woman did receive was the equivalent to about $3.39 per day, he told the court.

Her situation was uncovered when she was rushed to hospital in July 2015 in an emaciated condition, weighing 40kg and suffering from sepsis.

During the trial, lawyers for the accused couple disputed claims they possessed, controlled or abused the woman during her time in Australia.

The closing arguments will continue with the defence lawyers yet to address the jury.

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‘Can COVID-19 vaccines connect me to the internet?’ Health Department’s bizarre post

Health authorities have published a bizarre post online, debunking the conspiracy theory that COVID-19 vaccines contain materials that enable the recipient to connect to the internet.

The federal Department of Health answered the curious question on its “Is it true” page, where it responds to misinformation being shared in the community and online by providing “accurate, evidence-based answers to questions” about the jab.

“Can COVID-19 vaccines connect me to the internet?” the government web page asks.

The answer, of course, is “COVID-19 vaccines do not – and cannot – connect you to the internet”.

The theory originated because some mRNA vaccines, a new type of jab used to protect against infectious diseases, include a material called hydrogel, which is used to help disperse the vaccine slowly into the recipient’s cells.

“Bioengineers have used similar hydrogels for many years in different ways,” the health authority said. “For instance, they’ve used them to help stem cells survive after being put inside our bodies.

“Because of this, some people believe that hydrogels are needed for electronic implants, which can connect to the internet.”

But the Pfizer mRNA vaccine doesn’t even contain hydrogels as a component, instead using a piece of mRNA that is “coated in a lipid (fatty) droplet”.

“The lipid helps the vaccine enter our cells, as the membrane holding our cells together is also made mostly of lipid,” the Department of Health said.

“The vaccine and the membrane can fuse easily, depositing the mRNA inside the cell.”

The post emerged as the government battled fears the AstraZeneca vaccine could, on rare occasions, create fatal blood clots, with European research finding a link between the two.

Australia’s medical experts were forced on Thursday to review evidence about the vaccine after the UK recommended people aged under 30 be offered an alternative to AstraZeneca.

Greg Hunt was pushed on whether the decision could alter the federal government’s rollout plan, given AstraZeneca accounts for the bulk of vaccinations in that age group.

Mr Hunt said the government would be prepared to make changes based on “fearless and frank” advice from authorities.

“If they provide age restrictions or other variations, we’ll do it, we’ll adopt it,” he said.

Australia’s immunisation advisory group and drug regulator – which met on Wednesday about the issue – were on Thursday considering the latest vaccination findings about the rare blood clot events from Europe and the UK.

Their advice will then be provided to the Australia’s expert medical panel, and the Commonwealth later on Thursday evening, as well as discussed with leaders in national cabinet on Friday.

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Philippines man dies after being forced to do 300 squats for breaking Covid-19 curfew

On April 1, Darren Manaog Peñaredondo, 28, left his home in General Trias, a city in Cavite province, which is under lockdown due to rising Covid-19 cases, to buy water, his family said, according to CNN affiliate CNN Philippines.

But he was stopped by police and told to do “pumping exercises” 100 times, according to the report. Police made him repeat the exercises, meaning he ultimately did about 300 repetitions.

“He started to convulse on Saturday, but we were able to revive him at home. Then his body failed so we revived him again, but he was already comatose,” his family said, according to the report. Peñaredondo died at 10 p.m., the family said.

The Philippines has one of the highest reported Covid-19 caseloads of any country in Asia — it has recorded more than 819,000 infections and 14,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Last month, cases in the country rose sharply, prompting authorities to order more than 25 million people into lockdown — including those in Cavite province.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government and the mayor of General Trias city have ordered an investigation into Peñaredondo’s death, according to the report.

Philippines orders more than 25 million people into lockdown over Easter as Covid-19 cases soar

“All police officers who will be proven to have violated the law will be prosecuted and meted with appropriate (administrative) and criminal penalties,” the department’s undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said in a text message to CNN Philippines.

Peñaredondo’s death follows a string of incidents involving brutal policing techniques.

In a statement last month, non-profit organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) pointed to reports that officials had locked five youths inside a dog cage for violating quarantine. They also reportedly forced people to sit in the midday sun as punishment for breaching a curfew.

Jose Manuel Diokno, a lawyer and founder of Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), said it was not legal to lock people up in cages or make people squat 300 times. “The only penalties that can be imposed by law enforcers for any kind of violations are those found in local law and national law, and we don’t have any laws that allow people to be put in dog cages or be made to exercise for long periods of time,” he said.

A tough approach to Covid restrictions

The Philippines has taken a tough approach to containing coronavirus.

President Rodrigo Duterte has applied his traditional strongman tactics, saying in April last year that police would shoot dead anyone who violated virus restrictions. “I will not hesitate. My orders are to the police, the military and the barangays: If they become unruly and they fight you and your lives are endangered, shoot them dead,” Duterte said during a speech.
Huge numbers of people have been detained for breaching restrictions in the past 12 months. Between March and August last year, nearly 290,000 people were warned, fined or charged for violating quarantine rules, CNN Philippines reported. Since Duterte put the main Philippine island of Luzon in lockdown on March 16 this year, hundreds of people had been arrested in Manila, HRW said in March.
Police officers inspect motorists at a quarantine checkpoint, on March 29, 2021 in Marikina, Metro Manila, Philippines.
Philippine authorities argue the tough approach is needed to control the country’s outbreak. But Carlos Conde, a senior researcher at HRW, who is based in the Philippines, argues that surging cases show the measures haven’t worked. Instead, he said the decision to arrest people en masse has likely seen people “packed like sardines” into crowded jails, with no social distancing.

Lockdown orders had also harmed people who need to leave their homes to work, he said, adding the measures were “very anti-poor.”

In its annual report released this week, Amnesty International criticized the Philippines’ approach, noting that “measures taken by the government to curb the spread of Covid-19 led to numerous abuses of human rights.”
Last month, Duterte defended using former military officers in the fight against Covid-19, saying, “You need not be a doctor here,” according to a CNN Philippines report. CNN has reached out to the official Philippine Information Agency for comment.

Decline in freedoms

Brutal policing methods have been an issue for years in the Philippines. Since Duterte came to power in 2016, thousands have died in the “war on drugs” after the president ordered police to kill anyone they believed to be connected to the drugs trade.

But activists say the pandemic has further degraded freedoms and human rights.

According to Conde, the key problem is the government is treating Covid-19 as a public safety issue — not a health concern. The outsized roles given to military and police had only increased the prevalence of aggressive policing tactics, he said.

“I think the police, the military and the local government, they have been emboldened to commit human rights violations even more during the pandemic,” he said.

A police officer takes mugshots of alleged curfew violators at a quarantine checkpoint on March 29, 2021 in Marikina, Metro Manila, Philippines.

Diokno, the lawyer, said authorities had “just taken a cue from their leader,” referring to Duterte.

There have been impacts beyond those who were arrested for breaching quarantine. According to HRW, there was a 50% increase in people killed in the “war on drugs” from April to July 2020 compared with the previous four-month period.

Diokno said human rights had “very clearly” been degraded over the pandemic. “Aside from the lives that have been lost, the first victims of the pandemic were democratic rights and freedoms,” he said.

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Buddhist monk rescued from flooded cave after being trapped for days

The monk, identified by a local rescue unit as 46-year-old Phra Ajarn Manas, was on a pilgrimage from another province and entered the Phra Sai Ngam cave on Saturday.

An unseasonal rainstorm that struck on Sunday and continued through Tuesday flooded parts of the cave while he was inside, the local rescue unit said on its Facebook page.

The unit said residents in the area told them the monk was trapped inside the cave on Tuesday afternoon. Rescue workers went in looking for him but had to call off their operation after about an hour due to rising water levels.

Pictures on the unit’s Facebook page showed the monk on Wednesday sitting inside the cave surrounded by rescue workers and having his blood pressure taken.

“At 11:30 a.m. (0230 GMT) we successfully rescued Phra Manas out of the cave,” the unit said in a post.

One of the rescue workers confirmed in a phone call that the monk was out of the cave and getting first aid.

Seventeen divers participated in the effort to find and free the monk.

Thailand made global headlines in 2018 with the high-profile rescue of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in the northern town of Chiang Rai.

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Mum learns son’s bride is long-lost daughter on wedding day

This is the moment a bride breaks down in tears after discovering her very-soon-to-be husband was actually her “brother”.

The couple were about to tie the knot in Suzhou, Jiangsu province in China when the groom’s mother reportedly spotted a birthmark on the bride’s hand which mimicked that of her lost daughter’s.

After spotting the distinct mark, the woman asked the bride’s parents if they had adopted the daughter more than 20 years ago, local media reports.

The bride’s family was reportedly shocked by the question as the adoption had long been a family secret, but eventually admitted they’d found her as a baby by the roadside.

After listening to the explanation from her parents, the bride then “embraced her mother-in-law tightly and wept with joy”, Oriental Daily reported.

RELATED: Woman catches husband cheating with hotel selfie photo

However, the tear-jerking revelation on March 31 raised concerns over the marriage, making her groom her older brother – until things took another strange turn.

As it turned out, the marriage was able to proceed as he had also been adopted – so they weren’t biological siblings after all.

The heartbroken mother adopted a son after failing to find her missing daughter, the Oriental Daily reported.

The bride was completely unaware of her true birth story and later described the moment as “happier than the wedding day itself”.

The bride was reportedly “relieved” and went ahead to marry her groom.

But it’s certainly not a day they’ll ever forget – just perhaps not for the reasons they hoped.

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CIS paper proposes US-led collective of democracies to prevent ‘bullying’

A national security expert has called for the United States to support a coalition of nations to resist trade pressures from China – saying if Australia caves to Beijing’s tactics, it could “weaken democracies everywhere”.

The proposal comes after both China and Australia admitted on Wednesday that the relationship between the countries was strained.

Think tank Centre for Independent Studies published a policy paper on Thursday by Alan Dupont, a risk consultancy executive and former defence advisor.

Mr Dupont argued that Australia has suffered more than any other country from recent Chinese “coercive practices” when it comes to trade and diplomacy.

He said that China was making an example of Australia in order to scare other nations into “submission”.

But if the US took a global leadership role, Mr Dupont said, it could inspire democracies to come together in resisting China, strengthening their bargaining power against the superpower.

The think piece, titled “Resisting China’s economic coercion: Why America should support Australia”, comes in the context of deep-frozen Australian-Chinese relations and after a series of high-profile spats between the nations.

Australian complaints over China’s involvement in rolling out a new 5G network, treatment of Uighurs and handling of the coronavirus pandemic have all contributed to the relationship cooling over the past few years.

China has sought to punish Australia with trade sanctions hitting exporters of food, wine, and resources, and taunted the Australian government with an infamous doctored picture showing an Australian soldier slitting the throat of an Afghani child.

On Wednesday, both sides acknowledged the relationship was strained.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he wanted a “positive relationship” with China, but it was more important for Australia to stick with its values.

“We will have a positive relationship that is consistent with Australia acting in accordance with its values and its national character,” he said.

“And that will never be, that will never be something that we would yield for the sake of a relationship and I think that that is very important.”

His comments came ahead of a rare press conference by China’s ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, who told reporters in Canberra the country was “disappointed” in Australian “allegations” on the Uighur issue.

Mr Dupont said Australia made a mistake by becoming so reliant on China, leaning on the country to buy $150 billion of Australian goods in 2019-20, nearly 40 per cent of total exports.

“(Chinese president Xi Jinping’s) use of economic pressure for geopolitical ends would have been far less effective if Australia had not allowed itself to be seduced by the vast promise of the China market,” Mr Dupont said.

In Mr Dupont’s view, former US president Donald Trump made a series of “own goals” by retreating from the international diplomatic stage, giving China opportunities that it “ruthlessly exploited” to make life more difficult for other countries, including Australia.

He said the US should “get back in the game” by pushing for reform of the World Trade Organisation, joining a trade agreement signed by Pacific nations including Australia, and attempting to unite global democracies against China’s trade practices.

“The objective of the strategy must be to change Xi’s risk-reward calculation by dispelling the notion that he holds all the cards,” Mr Dupont writes.

“Leveraging the strength of many to make Xi realise that he risks collective action and the formation of a powerful anti-China coalition is the best antidote to coercion.”

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China flanks Taiwan with military exercises in air and sea

The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and its escorts were conducting maneuvers around Taiwan, China’s military said in a statement Monday.

“It was a routine training exercise organized according to the annual work plan to test the troops’ training effectiveness and beef up their capability to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, at least 10 People’s Liberation Army warplanes, including four J-16 and four J-10 fighter jets, a Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft and a KJ-500 early warning aircraft, entered Taiwan’s self-declared air defense identification zone (ADIZ), according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry.

The US Federal Aviation Administration defines an ADIZ as “a designated area of airspace over land or water within which a country requires the immediate and positive identification, location, and air traffic control of aircraft in the interest of the country’s national security.”

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it had a “full grasp” of the situation and was “appropriately handling” the matter, Reuters reported.

Beijing claims full sovereignty over Taiwan, a democracy of almost 24 million people located off the southeastern coast of mainland China, even though the two sides have been governed separately for more than seven decades.

Chinese threat to Taiwan 'closer to us than most think,' top US admiral says

Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed that Beijing will never allow the island to become formally independent and has refused to rule out the use of force, if necessary, to take the island back.

Tensions over Taiwan have been heating up in recent months as Taipei has garnered support from the US in the form of new military hardware, an agreement between the US and Taiwanese coast guards, and strong statements of support from the administration of US President Joe Biden.

“We are committed to deepening ties with Taiwan,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said last week.

Last month, after talks with Japanese leaders and diplomats, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Washington and Tokyo were prepared to push back against Chinese threats to stability and order in Asia.

“China uses coercion and aggression to systemically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law,” Blinken said.

“We will push back if necessary when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way.”

A ‘warning’ from Beijing

China’s maneuvers Monday demonstrated its military superiority over Taiwan, Shi Hong, executive chief editor of Chinese magazine Shipborne Weapons, said in a Global Times report.

“The exercise showed that the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) is capable of surrounding the island of Taiwan, isolating its troops and leaving them nowhere to run and no chance to win if circumstances arise,” Shi said.

The exercises also sent a message to both the US and Japan, Shi added. Since any US and Japanese military interventions would likely come from the east, China, by exercising its carrier group there, demonstrated it could cut off that help, Shi said.

Western analysts said China did not demonstrate any new capabilities in Monday’s exercises.

In fact, a Chinese carrier in the open Pacific could play to one of the strengths of the US Navy — its nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN), said Thomas Shugart, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and former US Navy captain.

“A Chinese carrier operating east of Taiwan is not particularly valuable being used like that, as it could be quite vulnerable operating that far out — in SSN-infested deep water and beyond China’s integrated air defense/SAM umbrella,” Shugart said.

But the Chinese military did make a political statement, analysts said.

“It’s intended as a warning to the Taiwanese and others who Beijing deemed as undermining its interests, not least the Americans,” said Collin Koh, research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

Koh points out that a PLA Navy carrier group has operated east of Taiwan at least twice before.

And the presence of large numbers of PLA aircraft in Taiwan’s ADIZ is becoming more common.
In late March, 20 PLA warplanes entered Taiwan’s ADIZ in one day, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry. It’s the highest number since last year, when Taiwan began disclosing almost daily flights by Chinese aircraft into its airspace.

Such Chinese activity is expected to continue. The PLA said in its statement that carrier operations such as the one staged Monday would occur on a regular basis.

US carrier operates in South China Sea

While the Chinese carrier was conducting exercises off Taiwan, a US Navy aircraft carrier strike group was carrying out its own operations in the South China Sea.

The US 7th Fleet said the USS Theodore Roosevelt and its escorts entered the South China Sea on Sunday for routine operations, the second such visit of the Roosevelt to the area this year.
A US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet lands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt on April 5, 2021, during operations in the South China Sea.

“It is great to be back in the South China Sea to reassure our allies and partners that we remain committed to freedom of the seas,” Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo, commander, Carrier Strike Group Nine, said in a statement.

“While in the South China Sea, the strike group will conduct fixed and rotary-wing flight operations, maritime strike exercises, anti-submarine operations, coordinated tactical training, and more,” the 7th Fleet statement said.

Beijing claims almost all of the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory and in recent years has built up military fortifications on several islands.

It says the presence of foreign military forces like the US aircraft carrier strike group are fomenting tensions in the region.

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Qld Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says travel not likely before vaccine rollout complete

Revelations of a travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia have excited eager tourists desperate for a return to overseas adventures.

But the Queensland Premier has dismissed the case for an extension of quarantine-free travel to include other nations with a low rate of coronavirus infections in the Asia Pacific, such as Singapore, Fiji, Vietnam and Thailand.

Annastacia Palaszczuk said access to other countries remained too risky given the various strains of the virus popping up across the globe.

“Let’s get the vaccine rollout done and then I think that will be the right time to have a look at that,” the Premier told reporters on Wednesday morning.

Qantas, Jetstar and Air New Zealand planned to jump on the access to quarantine-free travel by offering extra flights once the bubble begins on April 19.

The vaccine program is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year but supply issues have slowed down the rollout.

The Sunshine State has about a 14-day supply of the AstraZeneca jab and seven days of Pfizer, according to Health Minister Yvette D’Ath.

She said the state received 25,000 Pfizer vaccines on Thursday and was told the next batch wouldn’t arrive for another two weeks amid ongoing debates between state and federal politicians over stockpiling accusations.

Federal chief medical officer Paul Kelly has asked the states to provide jabs as soon as dosages are provided, but Ms D’Ath said Queensland had a responsibility to hold on to vaccines as a contingency over uncertain supply.

“We can use it as quickly as we can and run out and wait for that next delivery, but we are mindful that at this stage we have no confirmation there’ll be another Pfizer delivery within the fortnight,” she told reporters on Wednesday.

Supply of the vaccine has been riddled by uncertainty in recent weeks amid fears of adverse reactions, including blood clots, which led to potential changes to medical advice from distributors in Europe.

The only locally produced vaccine at this stage is the AstraZeneca jab, which the Prime Minister said was still vulnerable to supply shortcomings.

“Those risks occur in one of two ways,” Scott Morrison said. “Obviously, what we’ve seen in terms of import restrictions and those that we’re bringing in.

“But even domestic production – there can be impacts on domestic production. There is always the conditioning factor right across the vaccination rollout of the medical advice and the development of medical evidence that can in any way affect any of the vaccines.

“And so, there are no absolute guarantees when it comes to this. We will follow the medical advice. We will continue to ramp up production here in Australia. And we will continue to move through the distribution channels that can deliver the supply of vaccines that we have.”

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Facebook hack affected 7.3 million Australian accounts

Private information associated with some 7.3 million Australian Facebook accounts has been posted online after a massive data breach.

Fraudsters gained access to the data in 2019 after which it was traded for money for a while before being unceremoniously dumped online this week for the world to see.

The data includes phone numbers of many of the users, an aspect that sets the data breach apart from many other incidents. It’s more common that email addresses and passwords are compromised in data breaches.

“The exposure of phone numbers is noteworthy,” said Troy Hunt, an Australian web security expert and creator of the site Have I Been Pwned.

The site lets users plug in their email address or phone number to find out if it’s been included in any data sets exposed by criminals.

Pwned is internet slang for “owned” – in other words, compromised.

It can be unsettling to find out one’s personal details have been exposed in a hack. In some cases, plugging in an email address into Mr Hunt’s website can reveal a single account has been associated with multiple hacks, some dating back over a decade.

But it’s good to be aware if it has happened. People are encouraged to change their passwords – as often as possible, and especially if it’s been associated with an online account that has been compromised.

As for the latest incident, while it’s unusual and also quite big – more than half a billion global users were affected – it’s actually not as worrying as some other breaches, Mr Hunt said.

“There were no passwords exposed, so you don’t have to worry about that. I would recommend heightened awareness more than anything,” he said.

A possible consequence of having one’s phone number leaked online, especially when it’s associated with other personal details like name and suburb, is that scammers could seek to take advantage by sending spam messages or attempting a phishing attack.

Phishing is when a scammer attempts to gain access to private accounts by tricking people into clicking harmful web links masquerading as safe ones.

Facebook acknowledged the breach had happened in a press statement on Tuesday.

But the company said it wasn’t technically a hack – rather, the attackers took advantage of a loophole in the site’s system that made it possible to collect the phone numbers users had provided on a massive scale.

The fraudsters uploaded large sets of phone numbers and matched them to other information using a feature designed to help Facebook users find their friends on the site by plugging in their number.

“As a result of the action we took (at the time), we are confident that the specific issue that allowed them to scrape this data in 2019 no longer exists,” Facebook said in the statement.

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