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Purdue University - Discovery Park
Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security

More customer disservice—This time, Facebook

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I have a Facebook account. I use it as a means to communicate little status updates with many, many friends and acquaintances while keeping up to date (a little) on their activities. I'm usually too pressed for time to correspond with everyone as I would otherwise prefer to do, and this tenuous connection is probably better than none at all.

Sometime early in the year, either I slipped up in running a script or somehow, without authorization, Facebook slurped up my whole address book. This was something I most definitely did not want to happen, so even giving Facebook the benefit of the doubt and blaming it on operator (me) error it says something about their poor interface that such a thing could happen to an experienced user. (Of course, in the worst case, their software did something invasive without my authorization.)

Whatever happened, Facebook immediately started spamming EVERYONE with an invitation "from me" inviting them to join Facebook. There are many people in my address book with whom I have some professional relationship but who would not be in any category I would remotely consider "friend." It was annoying to me, and annoying/perplexing to them, to have to deal with these emails. A few of them joined, but many others complained to me.

I thought the problem would resolve itself with time. In particular, I didn't want to send a note to everyone in my list saying it was a mistake and not to respond. Sadly, the Facebook system seems to periodically sweep through this list and reissue invitations. Thus, I have gotten a trickle of continuing complaints, and suspect that a number of other people are simply annoyed with me.

So, what to do if this was a responsible business? Why, look for a customer help email address, web form, or telephone number to contact them. Good luck. They have FAQs galore, but it is the web equivalent of voicemail-hell: one link leads to another and back to the FAQs again with no way to contact anything other than an auto-responder that tells me to consult the FAQ system.

On July 26, I responded to a complaint from one of the unintended victims. I cc'd a set of email addresses that I thought might possibly be monitored at Facebook, including "abuse@facebook.com." I got an automated response back to read an inappropriate and unhelpful section of the FAQ. I replied to the email that it was not helpful and did not address my complaint.

On July 29 I received a response that may have been from a person (it had a name attached) that again directed me to the FAQs. Again I responded that it was not addressing my complaint.

August 6th brought a new email from the same address that seemed to actually be responsive to my complaint. It indicated that there was a URL I could visit to see the addresses I had "invited" to join, and I could delete any I did not wish to be receiving repeated invitations. Apparently, this is unadvertised but available to all Facebook users (see http://www.facebook.com/invite_history.php).

I visited the site, and sure enough, there were all 2200+ addresses.

First problem: It is not possible to delete the entire list. One can only operate on 100 names at a time (one page). Ok, I can do this, although I find it very annoying when sites are programmed this way. But 22 times through the removal process is something I'm willing to do.

Second problem: Any attempt to delete addresses from the database results in an error message. The message claims they are working on the problem or to check that I'm actually connected to the Internet, but that's it. I've tried the page about every other day since August 6th, with various permutations of choices, and the error is still there. So much for "working on it."

I've also tried emailing the same Facebook address where I got the earlier response, with no answer in 2 weeks.

I thought about unsubscribing from Facebook as a way of clearing this out, but I am not convinced that the list -- and the automated invites -- would stop even if I inactivated my account.


Bottom line: providing Facebook any access to email addresses at all is like Roach Motel -- they go in, but there is no way to get them out. And Facebook's customer service and interfaces leave a whole lot to be desired. Coupled with other complaints people have had about viruses, spamming, questionable uses of personal images and data, changes to the privacy policy, and the lack of any useful customer service, and I really have to wonder if the organization is run by people with any clue at all.

I certainly won't be inviting anyone else to join Facebook, and I am now recommending that no one else does, either.

Comments

Posted by Someone Gene Knows
on Sunday, August 30, 2009 at 12:54 AM

apropos “..a URL to see whom I had ‘invited’ to join where I could delete any I did not wish to be receiving repeated invitations…”

Outrageous!!! - thanks for the heads-up, Gene! (hmmm, so you hadn’t really meant to personally invite me…?!? ...and here I had told myself: if Gene thinks it safe enough to ask me to “come play,” I might try it after all! ...against all my instincts and breaking my decision to discontinue socializing online (quitting USEnet without any clever remarks about ...elephants! wink

...so I “went there”, saw four addresses (which I had invited individually) BUT… no command to delete the two that have not accepted (to avoid that they’ll get annoyed by repeated invitations). I’ll shortly terminate my account, seeing no way to resolve this any other way. Bad news is, that F seems to remember I.P. addresses also… Me? Paranoid?!? Just because I think Google a rather clever, somewhat spooky front…??? 

In fact I had already realized that “not all was well,” had therefore NOT uploaded an addressbook “to find old friends”... I had considered that “not a good idea” after I had deduced how they go about suggesting others to connect to “as friends”—names had popped up that were not “Gene’s friends” puzzling me… how did Facebook know I would know them?... ah, yes, that must be because their addressbook also contains the (private/personal) email address Gene had used to invite me… which means that Facebook will tell them also that I can now be found here.  I immediately went to Settings, changed to a throw-away email address and, not trusting that F would “really” forget, I took the trouble of creating a blocking list… still, an unsatisfactory state of affairs!

Why am I not (really) surprised…  They’ll do it EVERY TIME! (with airs of “You Can Trust Us”)

Posted by Jean Camp
on Sunday, August 30, 2009 at 05:25 PM

Thank you! I have checked to make sure I have not been rudely “inviting” someone. It is not as if someone I know would not have heard of FaceBook.

thanks,
Jean

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