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It’s one of the creepiest things you can experience on Facebook.
You stumble across the profile of “another” user who appears to have stolen the details of your life – lock, stock and barrel.
They use one of your photographs as a profile picture, have stolen your name, your place of work and where you live. Maybe they have even managed to connect with some of your friends.
Their reasons for impersonating you may be complex – it could be that they are interested in stalking and harassing you, attempting to crowbar personal information out of your online friends, or wish to besmirch your character by posting messages under your name that are untruthful and potentially damaging to your career, friendships and family life.
Whatever the reason, it is the kind of attention that nobody wants.
And yet, judging by the emails I have received in the past from victimised Facebook users, it is not that uncommon.
Take, for instance, the case of Kantavadee Nisanpayu, a 33-year-old Thai civil servant. As Nisanpayu described to the local media last year, she had the ghastly experience of a stranger creating a fake profile in her name, and posting messages with her phone number, claiming she was a prostitute looking for new clients.
Thankfully, Facebook appears to be waking up to the problem.
In an interview with Mashable, Facebook’s Head of Global Safety Antigone Davis describes how the social network is beginning to alert on cloned accounts being used to impersonate innocent Facebook users:
“We heard feedback prior to the roundtables and also at the roundtables that this was a point of concern for women. And it’s a real point of concern for some women in certain regions of the world where it [impersonation] may have certain cultural or social ramifications.”
Mashable explains that a new tool alerts Facebook’s safety team to accounts that are using the same names and photographs, raising an alarm that details may have been stolen:
When Facebook detects that another user may be impersonating you, it will send an alert notifying you about the profile. You’ll then be prompted to identify if the profile in question is impersonating you by using your personal information, or if it belongs to someone else who is not impersonating you.
Questionable accounts will then be manually reviewed by Facebook staff. One assumes that Facebook would determine which account was likely to be real and which was the impersonator by examining the profile’s creation date, amongst other information.
The safety feature, which is said to have been in development since last November, is now live on Facebook for 75% of the world.
In my opinion, anything which makes it easier for victims to report abuse on Facebook has to be a good thing – and I hope the social network puts sufficient resource into closing down offending accounts quickly so damage can be kept to a minimum.
Author Graham Cluley, We Live Security