Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Facebook Spam Scams - the new scourge of social networking

With the advancement of social networking has come a sense that simple things like privacy and protection of your personal information has gone by the wayside, and you would be right for assuming that 99% of this is due to our own ignorance or gullibility. Facebook, with it's web dominance over social networking and an online user base that's growing by the minute, has been the target of spammer and scammers since day one, however it's more recently that the consequences have become more visible. My friends have had their profiles taken over by spambots, posting all manner of junk in my news feed and in my profile, and it usually stems from a simple mistake they have made.

Case in point, a recent rash of viral "Click Here To Find Out..." applications have lured unsuspecting Facebookers into allowing spambots to access their profiles and personal information. Variations include "OMG. This girl got expelled for posting this online. Click here to find out what it was", "OMG, this girl killed herself after her father posted THIS on her wall", and other sensationalistic headlines to lure people in. More recently, applications claiming to show you how often your profile has been viewed or what your first Facebook post was have cropped up and people have swallowed it hook, line and sinker. I am now getting people posting on my profile things like "My total profile views are 12,044, click here to find out yours" and other crap. Looking through various friends' profiles reveals the same things, posted over and over, and it happens so fast that simply blocking the application is too little, too late. In another instance, a friend of had a status update that claimed her first post was in April 2009, however she has been a prolific Facebooker since 2007. That's when my bullshit meter started twitching.

So what do these applications do exactly? Clicking on the link takes you to an outside page that requires you to complete a survey in order to get the data you're looking for, and it will entice you to allow it access to your Facebook profile and relevant personal details. Considering you were given the link by a trusted friend, it couldn't possibly be bad, right? Wrong. Once you have done everything, and it's given you the phony (and completely random) data, it will hijack your profile and start spamming your friends. It will auto-generate posts like the ones described above and rapidly send them out to friends, who may in turn do the same thing you did and the cycle continues. It's spreading rapidly and I'm amazed that, despite all the warnings and the fact that it's OBVIOUSLY spam, people still are falling for it. Sorry to burst your bubble, people, but there is no scandalous details about a girl who killed herself or got expelled, and there is no way to track your profile visits or your first ever post. In short, these applications exist only to infest Facebook profiles and you're naive to think of them as anything more.

For Facebook's part, they have done very little to stop the spread of these applications, citing their need to focus on bigger risks. With a site as popular as Facebook being an obvious target for spammer and hackers, I can understand the need to prioritize and as such you should have low expectations of Facebook coming to your aid if you should fall victim to one of these scams. Safety online really boils down to common sense, so the golden rule of keeping your private information as private as possible is more important than ever. Go into your privacy settings, set strict limits on what information is showing and who can see it, and never trust any third party applications on Facebook. Tread them as spam and never allow them to access your profile. While they might seem enticing, the few moments of amusement that you get are not worth the endless headaches trying to get them off your profile. Be smart, be safe, and above all else, use your heads!

The Consuminator, signing off.

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