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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Can You See Who's Viewing Your Facebook Profile?

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 7:00 AM


I have a question about those Facebook applications that promise to show you who visits your page and how frequently; do they actually work? Because stalking people on FB is like a part-time job for me and I love it and I don't want that known to the world, you know?

~Lock, Stalk & Barrel

Just like the great "WTF Justin Bieber gets an erection in a public interview lol" letdown of 2010, Facebook apps that claim to show you who's stalking you are too good to be true. A quick search on Facebook's FAQ proves that such applications explicitly violate their Terms of Use:

"Can I know who's viewing my profile or how often it's being viewed?

No, Facebook does not provide the ability to track who is viewing your profile, or parts of your profile, such as your photos. Applications by outside developers cannot provide this functionality, either. Applications that claim to give you this ability will be removed from Facebook for violating policy."

Some apps, like the now defunct Fan Check, show you who your "top fans" are, based on how many times a friend comments on or likes your junk, but it's all based on public information, not who is lurking on your page without leaving any virtual marks. It makes sense, really. If we all knew who was stalking us, we'd be much less likely to interact with people's profiles on Facebook, and its value as a social tool would decrease, then I wouldn't get to talk so much about Facebook's tool, and the world would be a sadder place, generally.

So why do scams like ProfileWatcher, ProfileSpy, MyFacebookStalker, and ePrivacy persist in their claims to know who's keeping tabs on your life? Well, partly it's our own damn fault because as soon as we allow scammy, third-party apps access to our info, our profiles are automatically updated with a link and a status that says something like:

"OMG OMG OMG ... I can't believe this actually works! Now you really can see who viewed your profile!"
Despite every ounce of common sense we have in our non-electronic lives that tells us there is no way our great aunt Cecilia would use the phrase "OMG" let alone three times in a row, we're still, for some reason, compelled to click on the link. Around 60,000 Facebook users fell for the OMG scam back in November.

In order to find out a little more about these scams, I reached out to Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant from the Net security firm Sophos. He told me via email that Facebook is taking legal action against some of the folks they believe to be behind these scams, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

AP: What actually happens if you are scammed? Do these apps do something with your data? Will they have access to your info forever or just until you remove the app?

GC: Most of these scams are designed to earn money for the scammers by earning a slice of cash each time you complete an online survey.  Some of them also ask you for your cell phone number and then sign you up for an expensive subscription that you may not notice until you come around to paying the bill.
The rogue application you give permission to access your profile can post to your Facebook page (thus spreading the scam virally to your friends and colleagues) but it also means that it can peruse other aspects of your profile.  So there is the potential for some personal information to be stolen (however, as far as we have seen, most of these scams concentrate on earning money through the surveys).
Once you've removed the app they won't be able to access your info.  But, of course, by the time you've removed the app it may be too late.

AP: Why doesn't Facebook catch these obvious scams?

GC: It's surprising isn't it?  Especially as some are clearly very, very similar to ones that have gone before.  I've lost count of the number of times I've seen "girl killed herself after her dad posted to her Facebook wall."
My feeling is that they're not putting enough technology and manpower into fighting the nuisance. Maybe it's not a big priority for them?  If so, that's a big shame - as it certainly makes Facebook a less fun place to be.

AP: You'd think there'd be some type of application approval process or something. Any idea how long it takes FB to wise up and remove the rogue apps?

GC: I agree. I think Facebook should follow Apple's example and only allow *approved* apps to be distributed, as I wrote about here
We inform Facebook of many of the scams and rogue apps that we see, and some of them get closed down within a matter of hours. Others, however, appear to keep on causing problems for days or weeks. I certainly don't get the feeling that Facebook is running a round-the-clock operation stamping out these attacks, as we normally only hear back in Pacific time - which can be after tens of thousands of Facebook users have been affected.

There you have it, folks. I'm not going to tell you to be less stupid in the future, because I just voluntarily watched The Bachelor premiere and hence feel that would be hypocritical, but I will say this: think before you link! Oh, and don't ask me to tell you what color bra I'm wearing either. I don't care if you think it'll cure cancer. 

Social-media mistress Anna Pulley likes to give advice about how to play well with others on the internets. If you have a question about etiquette involving technology, shoot her a question at

Follow us on Twitter: @annapulley and @SFWeekly 

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