Facebook’s Requirement of ‘Authentic’ Names

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I recently read a Wired article entitled, Help, I’m Trapped in Facebook’s Absurd Pseudonym Purgatory, and it reminded me of an experience I had last month.  I was at a conference and relying  upon my email and Facebook to help me maintain communication with my students, administration and clients.  I was midway in reading a message on Facebook and it shut down.  When I tried to login, I received a message that I needed to confirm my identity in order to logon.  My suspicious brain immediately assumed it was a cybersecurity problem.  With this assumption, the last thing I was going to do was to send them more information.  So, I went to the web and began to check sources regarding this problem and I found that it was really Facebook!  I checked and learned that I either had to send some ID with a picture and address.  Of course, I could send them an ID with my name, such as a driver’s license and picture, or a bill, library card, passport or other kind of document that could prove I was who I claim to be.  I was really troubled about this, but I took a photo of my driver’s license and sent it to Facebook.  Twenty-four hours later I could login to Facebook again.  I don’t really understand the evidence factor … how do they know that photo is of me?  How do they know where I live?  And, I am so glad my social security number is no longer on my driver’s license!

But, what happened?  When you sign up for Facebook, you agree to use your real name.  For several years, I used ‘Vicki Sauter.’  However, at some point, my cousin’s wife whose name is also ‘Vicki’ and who changed her last name when she got married, also joined Facebook.  We were fine until family members had friended both of us.  Then people began to get confused… they would friend her when they thought they thought they were friending me and vice versa.  The same was true with postings and messages.  Now, you know I am a computer person …. my cousin is a Lutheran minister!  The mixup could get quite confusing!  Since her middle name also begins with an ‘L,’ just using a middle initial was not going to solve the problem.  So, we solved the problem:  I changed my Facebook name to Vicki TheGeek Sauter and she changed her Facebook name to Vicki TheRev Sauter.  It was working quite well until someone “reported” me for not having an authentic name.  Believe me, everyone who came to my page knew who I was;  I assume the same was true with my cousin.  So, I gave in and sent them a copy of my driver’s license and my official name is back to Vicki Sauter (TheGeek).  The name in parentheses doesn’t even show up all of the time.

In my case, the result of going back to a name that appears on legal documents is a hassle and may cause confusion.  But, as I began to talk about it and think about it, there could be real problems.  What if someone were only known by friends using a nickname or a middle name?   I had an aunt whose name was Agnes Leone, but almost no one knew her first name (sorry dear, the secret is out), and many of us called her by a nickname, Vicki (it’s a long story).  Might she never be found by her friends?  Or, consider someone who is the victim of a stalker or spousal/child abuse.  Those folks might use a pseudonym to protect their safety.  Who knows who is looking at our profiles, especially if the security settings are not well controlled.  Someone else could ‘share’ your post and then your security is gone.  Or, what about people who join Facebook with a pseudonym because they are concerned that their employers might object to their use of social media.  Does Facebook’s needs really outweigh those people?

When I joined Facebook, no one asked me to prove who I was.  I just want them to make it easy for people to find me.  It’s fine that they know I am Vicki Sauter, but let me put back my “TheGeek” to avoid confusion.  And, figure out a way to make it safe for people who use different names


Do you need help using the Internet?

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coverI have a new book and it may just be the thing you have been looking for!  The name of the book is You’re Never Too Old to Surf:  A Senior’s Guide to Safe Internet Use. 

This book is for you if you have ever wanted to harness the power of the Internet, but haven’t been quite sure what that means or how to do it.  It is intended for the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who want to use the wide range of tools that are available today on the Internet, from simply surfing the web to buying online, using email, blogs and even social networking sites.  You may have sought guidance from your child or children  only to be annoyed at their exasperated response to your questions.  Or, you may have tried it on your own, and gotten frustrated with the tools, or had some problem result from that use (or know someone who did).  You may be using the Internet, but just not feel very confident in what you are doing.  If you fall into any of those categories, I wrote this book for YOU!  Of course, if you are the child or grandchild and are having trouble explaining things to your elders, this book could help you too.

The book is available from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.  Your local bookstore can order it too.  It is published through CreateSpace, ISBN 978-1506163857.

Please give it a try and let me know how you like it.


Think Twice about what You Post

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Today I read a post in Facecrooks (which by the way is a positive site to help you protect yourself, despite the name) about a man whose posts lead to negative consequences.  The post started with:

According to police in Philadelphia, a 19-year-old man was targeted by three robbers after he posted on Facebook and Instagram about an inheritance of jewelry he had just received.

The three robbers kicked down the door of the victim’s home at 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning, making off with a Rolex watch, several gold chains and mobile phones. Thankfully no one in the home was hurt, but the robbers have not yet been caught.

According to the Hickory Record, the robbers were caught and during the questioning, they mentioned they had heard about the inheritance.  Clearly the young man who received the inheritance never intended for strangers to know about his good luck.

This is a case of not having Facebook privacy controls set appropriately.  To check YOUR settings, go to the small arrow at the far end of the blue border at the top of your Facebook page.  Click the arrow and select “Settings” as shown below.

Checking Facebook Settings

Checking Facebook Settings

At that point,select “Privacy” from the left menu.  You will see a screen that begins with “Who can see my Stuff.”  If you have not already set it, this probably says “everyone.”  If so, edit it and and select the “custom” button.  You might want to set that to just your friends, or friends of friends.  Or, you can set it so that only specific people can view what you post.

If you have something valuable, such as the jewelry inheritance, you want the post to be sent only to your friends, and maybe not even all of them.  You can use your lists of people to narrow the group further.  If you have it set as “everyone,” not only can everyone who happens on your page read it, but they can also share it with everyone they know.  With this kind of visibility, it is not surprising that the bad guys got the news.

You need not adjust those settings the same for everyone.  But, for valuables or for photos of children (especially with other information), it is best to limit the range of people who see your post.


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Yep, “phishing” is a real thing, and you pronounce it the same as “fishing”.  Like fishing, phishing uses bait in an effort to hook something.  Unlike fishing, phishing doesn’t look for fish, but rather for sensitive information.  Phishing attempts to use an apparently trustworthy request to gain usernames and passwords to get access to more computers and/or credit card and other financial information to get money.

The key to phishing is that the request appears to be legitimate.  An email might be constructed to have the same look as those from your bank or other financial institution.  Or, the email might appear to be a bill from a company with which you do business.  Today phishing happens withing social networking tools, such as Facebook,  too.  These might be realized as:

A game or lottery.  In this kind of phishing, you may get an email or a Facebook post that claims you have won money.  Unfortunately, to get to the money, you must send them money or access to your bank account.

A request to confirm your account  These emails or social networking program ask you to log into a system that appears to be the legitimate.  Often these are sites that are appropriately branded and look as you expect them to be, but aren’t.  Never click on a link in  the email or social networking message;  the site might not take you where it appears to be.  The better approach is to log in manually.  So, if the message appears to be from Facebook, don’t click on the link, but instead type in http://www.facebook.com and proceed from there.

A violated policy alert.  You may note an email or Facebook post that claims you have broken some policy in your email system, Facebook or some other social networking system.  These always ask you to log in and do something.  Always navigate to the site manually.  Don’t provide information unless you are sure you are on the correct site.

Photos and Videos.  It is quite common for people who have hacked one account to try to get more information by sending information to contacts that appear to be from the original owner of the account.  These messages might claim to have videos or photos of you that are not appropriate.  Or, the message might claim to have photographic proof of some gory or sensational event.  These are almost always an attempt to get access to your account.  You should ignore t hem.

Before logging in to any site, always verify that you are indeed on the main site. Careless and unsuspecting users are often fooled by these tricks.

Facebook “Likes”

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If you have been on Facebook at all, you have been faced with the option to “like” a product, service, or business.  You might select to “like” it to make a statement of support.  More likely you selected “like” in order to get messages from the organization on your Facebook feed, or to register fora contest or coupons or the like.  If you are like most of us, you do not think much more about the action.

Facebook, and corporations that would like to advertise on Facebook, however, think a great deal about that click.  We all know that the organization will send us information on our feed about the product or service, thereby opening ourselves to advertising.   Facebook and the organizations that advertise want to achieve much more with this information.    This additional use is the source of a lawsuit in California claiming that Facebook and certain advertisers use the information without paying them or giving them a way to opt out.  According to an article in the New York Times,

The case focuses on an advertising tactic known as sponsored stories, in which Facebook users endorse brands, in some cases without their knowledge. For example, if users “like” Wal-Mart, the retailer uses their names and pictures in advertisements to their friends on the social network. Wal-Mart pays Facebook for the service.

In other words, they use your image and the fact that you “liked” the organization to advertise to your Facebook friends and even to others who may not know you over Facebook.  Think how much stronger advertising can be if they say “John Smith, Mary Jones and Ken Anderston all like this product.”  It is an endorsement.  Perhaps your “liking” had nothing to do with an endorsement … maybe it was just a way of getting information about a product — or even a competitor’s product.   It could be misleading to say you are advocating the organization, and might be down right wrong to say you are.  Hence, the California law.

Be Careful When Posting your Location on Facebook

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We have all seen the posts of people who need to share their current location.  They talk about the trip to Europe they will enjoy for the next two weeks,  the concert they are attending, or the restaurant where they will eat tonight.  They are sharing information with their friends.  Of course, we have talked before about controlling your security levels so you really only share with friends.  But, I suspect most people do not think of it a great deal.  So, I want to share a story.

There is a young woman in Chicago who works for Groupon, teaches rowing at one of the city’s finest Catholic high schools, and coaches a rowing team.  A few years ago she started an organization called Recovery on Water (ROW) for survivors of breast cancer.  Her mission is to provide them an opportunity to exercise because research suggests that regular exercise drops the likelihood of another tumor by half.  It seems like a good cause with a regular membership that exercises together and supports one another in their challenge.

This summer the founder decided she would row the perimeter of Lake Michigan to raise money for her cause in an effort she called Row4ROW.   As I understand it, she planned to row the entire perimeter alone and sleep on her boat.  Along the way she shared information about her cause and, of course, blogged about her experience, including her location.  All went well until last week when she was sexually assaulted while she slept on her boat (you can read the Sun Times story).   On July 12, her blog (written by a friend) read:

Jenn was set to row to Beaver Island on Sunday morning but was attacked and sexually assaulted by a man in the early morning hours. The attack occurred in an area south of Gulliver along Lake Michigan in Mueller Township, Schoolcraft County, Mich. Investigators have reason to believe the assailant traveled a significant distance to commit the assault.

The bold print on the last sentence is mine.  It appears from reading her blog that they have not yet caught the assailant.    However, it is interesting to note that they believe that he knew where to find this young woman simply by following her blog.  It is anyone’s guess how he knew to find her blog — it might have been random, or he knew of the effort, or someone posted it on Facebook (frankly, that is how I learned about Row4ROW).  But the point is that the young woman, traveling alone, sleeping on the water simply broadcast her location to the world.  And, she has paid for that mistake.

Many people suffer home burglaries or other crimes because someone knows they are not home because of broadcasts on social networking sites.  Even if all you do is to post a photo from your phone, a technologically sophisticated person can check the photo for information about your location (and, depending on your phone, might know exactly where you were and when you were there).

The young woman is now taking better precautions.  For a couple of days she rode a bike (with others)  until she could find safe locations for sleeping.  She is now back on the water finishing her adventure and raising more money and more awareness of her cause.  And, raising more awareness of the problems of social networking sites.

I do not know this woman, and I do not know anyone participating in the program.  However, I was moved enough by her determination to continue that I did contribute.  If you are so motivated, you can make a donation online.


Facebook and Email


Last week Facebook decided to replace everyone’s default email address with a Facebook email address for everyone.  For example, they changed my email address to vicki.sauter@facebook.com.  I never saw an explanation for why they made this change, but I heard a lot of the discussion of the problems that it caused.

First, this change impacted how people could search for friends.    We all know you can search by putting a name in the box at the top of the screen labeled “search for people, places, and things.”  However you can also put in an email address there.  Suppose, for example, you were looking for John Smith.  There are a large number of John Smiths from which to choose and maybe your friend doesn’t have a photo, or is using a photo of his children, dog, or an interesting plane as a profile photo.  It may be impossible to know which John Smith is actually your friend.  However, if you search for his email address, let’s say jlsmith1234@yahoo.com, you will find him directly.  Once Facebook changed everyone’s email addresses, they hid real email addresses, so that this kind of search was no longer possible, thereby making searching difficult.

Second, there is no facebook.com email agent.  Yes, you can check messages by clicking on the globe icon on the left top of your facebook screen.  Not all messages sent via email seem to have been put there, however.  You also need to look in your “other messages” file;  I’ll bet you didn’t know there was an “other messages” file!  To get to these messages, click on the word “messages” on the left hand menu when looking at your newsfeed.  This click should show a another file called “other messages.”  I have not yet discovered how Facebook decides to deliver messages between your message folder and your other message folder.  However, you should check both.

Third, many people have smart phones and other smart devices that try to keep all of your contacts from different programs consistent.  If you have one of these, you should check your contacts and their email addresses.  Some devices replaced known email addresses with the facebook.com email address for all contacts.  This meant that you lost the real email address, which might cause problems for you if you need to actually email them.

Other devices decided that the contacts with these new email addresses at facebook.com were new contacts and therefore created a new profile for them in the contact/phone book list.  If you have a lot of connections between the your Facebook and phone book list, this can cause a lot of confusion.

What can you do?  Go to your “home” page (not your newsfeed) and click on “info.”  Scroll down to “contact” information and see if the accounts you want to be active are active. If you still have an email address at facebook.com, you can change it here.  (If you instead have the Timeline, click on “about” and edit your contact information.)


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