How Well Do You Know Your Facebook Friends? Precautions for Travelers
I have visited six countries in the last six months. And every time I've crossed a border (and sometimes even when I haven't), Facebook has known about it.
"We don't recognize the location you're logging in from," they begin. So, in order to test the authenticity of my identity, they ask permission to run me through a few questions.
The first step is easy enough. To prove that I'm not a computer, I have to recognize and enter the squiggly letters and numbers generated for me. No problemo.
However, the next step is slightly more harrowing. I am told that I'll be shown a series of pictures of my Facebook friends, and that I must correctly identify them. Out of the six or so photos, I can say "I don't know" for two. The rest, I must identify — correctly — or I'll be barred access to my account.
A saving grace is that for each photo, I'm given five choices as to who the friend could be, and sometimes I'm shown two photos of the Facebook friend in question. So even if we're not the best of friends, I can sometimes narrow the choices down by the sheer powers of deduction.
But how many friends do you have on Facebook? How well do you know these friends? And how many of these friends like to upload blurry drunken shots from their cell phone, or pictures from childhood, or pictures of something completely unrelated (like their cat) that are accidentally tagged as them?
I have a friend who is a Facebook fiend. If he has the slightest encounter with somebody — anybody — he becomes friends with them on Facebook. For him, it is a challenge to see how many Facebook friends he can accumulate. I have another friend who loves to play Facebook games, and in order to gain status or higher points, she needs to accumulate more friends — and she does so promiscuously. I would wager that the Facebook security process of identifying their "friends" wouldn't auger well for either of them.
Until now, I've been happy to use my personal Facebook account as a bit of a business and social networking tool. I've "friended" people I know online whom I have some sort of relationship with, even if I don't know them really well — despite my inability to identify them in a picture attending some wedding 10 years ago.
But now, with these regular security checks levied every time I change locations (which, as a full-time traveler, is a lot), I'm weary. More than once I've been down to the wire in my photo-identifying frenzy, sometimes having to make educated guesses as to who the "friend" might be since I'd already selected "I don't know" twice.
What happens if you incorrectly identify a friend or otherwise fail the Facebook security test? Thankfully, I don't know. I'm sure there would be some identity-related hoops to jump through in order to reinstate the account — hoops I hope I'll never have to navigate.
This must be a fairly new initiative, because in my near-four years of full-time travels, I've only undergone these security checks in the last few months. And I actually quite like the idea that Facebook is working on security and privacy in this way. But I'm also very wary of accepting anybody I don't personally know (and by personally, I mean in-person) as a friend. To keep in touch with people I don't know as well, I have a fan page. And if you're planning on doing much traveling in the future and want access to your account, you may want to set up a fan page yourself, or study up on your friends' Facebook photos.
How do you use your Facebook account? And how well do you know your Facebook friends? Could you "pass the test"?