Facebook Hoax May Be Clever Marketing Ploy
Facebook officials say a chain message that is making the rounds on the site and warning users they are being spied upon is harmless and should be ignored.
"This is a chain message that claims certain users have special access to profile information. It’s not true, and we don’t know where it originated," Facebook spokesperson Simon Axten told TechNewsDaily. "We’re asking people to disregard the message and tell their friends."
Because the message is designed to be spread quickly and yet is not malicious, some Facebook developers have speculated it is a clever marketing ploy by the company mentioned in the message.
The chain message reads: "All FB friends. This is important. Do this asap! Go to settings. Click on privacy settings. Click on block users. in [sic] the name box enter 'automation labs'. A list of approx 20 people you dont even know will come up. Block each one individually. These people have access to your facebook account/profile and spy on what you do … "
More than a million Facebook users may have received this message, according to Nick O'Neill of AllFacebook.com, a popular blog that focuses on the social media site . When the AllFacebook team got wind of the circulating message, it issued a statement that the privacy threat contained in the message was completely false.
The message exploits a standard Facebook search feature within the settings on a user's Facebook page, O'Neil explained. Facebook's privacy settings include a feature to block certain people from a user's profile. Once a user types the name of the person he wishes to block, Facebook generates a list of all Facebook users with either that name, a similar name or people associated with the name.
When panicked users typed in Automation Labs as directed, a window popped up listing people associated with Automation Labs. Typing in any name will produce a similar list of associated users or those with similar names.
Thus, all the chain mail really does is instruct Facebook users to block people they probably don't know, which is harmless.
O'Neil suspects the message may be a marketing campaign. "If it is, it's genius," he said in a telephone interivew. "Millions of Facebook users are now searching for Automation Labs."
Automation Labs sells an add-on for Facebook's most popular game, Zynga's Farmville. Farming Extreme Manager is priced at $6.99.
"If there were a million people who search Automation Labs, visit its website, and even 1,000 people bought it, they've just made $7,000 bucks," O'Neil said. "My bet is it's someone from Automation Labs, but it could be someone else."
For their part, Automation Labs confirmed Facebook's assessment. "This rumour is a hoax, it is completely false," reads a message on the company's Web site.
Automated Labs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As with email, experts warn users to employ caution when dealing with chain messages on Facebook and other social media sites. Do not enter sensitive information such as your birth date; do not accept "friend" or "follower" requests from people you don't know; and don't click on messages from friends that seem strange or out of character.
And last but not least, use complex and unique passwords that can't easily be guessed.