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Not so fun questions

Hi everyone, your friendly local tech coaches here.

We love you all, and we're worried about you. I'll admit to spending an embarrassingly high number of hours every week to scrolling through Facebook. Which means, especially in the wee quiet hours of no one else online, I see content that my friend's have made comments on. I often see when my friends have answered those silly questions that pop up on Facebook. I'll grant you, the questions are fun little debates or trips down memory lane, but there is something more sinister there too.

Image of text "what goes on fries? Don't say ketchup"

The questions almost always have the same format; bold letters on a colored background, posted publicly by some radio station that no one has heard of or a small company, asking about music from high school, some question that is well and truly subjective, or something with a clearly wrong statement (the perfect bait for those who live to be right!). They just sort of dare you to answer, like a kid taunting you on a playground. The questions themselves are often harmless (more on those that aren’t below). What is valuable, and why they post it, is they now have links to the profiles of thousands or more Facebook accounts. They can now see all of your public information, including your profile photo, which they can download, and your list of friends.

Now, phase 2. At this point I’m sure most people have gotten a fake friend request from a profile that has the same or recent profile photo of a friend you have, but the profile is otherwise nearly empty. The give away is that the only things on the profile are what your friend has publicly shared. By answering that harmless question regarding pop tarts, a company can then make some software to scrape all the data that’s available from everyone that commented, and turn those into profiles, and send friend requests and messages to everyone who is friends with that person posing as them.

Image of text "Most people get it wrong! 1(2+3)/8

Then, phase 3. Not everyone is wise to their tricks, or perhaps just not paying attention that day and some people accept the friend request. Those same hackers now have access not just to your public info, but to your whole profile! They can then repeat this process, making an even more believable account as the one who accepted the friend request. These bogus accounts can then either get more information by sending out more believable friend requests, be used to sway algorithms into making certain posts look more popular than they are, and share ads or propaganda. Or, in the most nefarious of cases, can use that info to extrapolate likely passwords.

Image of text "What was the top song on your birthday?"

An example is you post a photo of your pet with the pet’s name. Now, any password that uses that pet’s name is easier to guess. You post a happy anniversary to your significant other, now they have their name and info, which is frequently used for identity confirmation. You share some photos from a reunion, they now have your high school, the year you graduated, and a good guess about your home town. We willingly and inadvertently constantly overshare online. This is what makes certain questions much less fun, some are more obvious attempts to get identity information or password guesses than others. The absolute worst are the ones with a list of 20 questions or so, which contain all the most frequent security questions for resetting passwords.

Image of text "Your new nickname is your middle name and the street you grew up on lol"

Now, the good news! The vast majority of this information can stay between friends. You can have your cake AND eat it too. Those fun questions really can be fun, just don’t comment on the questions original post! If you love a question, and I’m willing to guess you’d much rather have your friend’s opinion then a bunch of strangers, don’t be afraid to just post the question yourself! Go your own profile, type it in or what ever fun idea you have, and share, just make sure the post’s privacy is set to friends only. You can also do a privacy check up right from facebook’s settings page. Make sure almost all of it is set to friends only, only things that should be public is a profile photo so when you send friend requests they can confirm it’s you, and your friends list is always public.

So go, enjoy finding out your best friend’s favorite pasta or if they think that dress is yellow or blue, but just keep it between friends.

Image of text "a pop tart is a ravioli! prove me wrong!"

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