Monday, 5 September 2011


Ironically, last night we watched ‘The Social Network’ on DVD. Ironically because, just before signing off at midnight, I visited Facebook and discovered a thoughtless but no doubt well-meaning third party had set up a community page on Facebook, without our knowledge or consent. The page, under the title of our family name (as in ‘The Smiths’, but not that), included a detailed map showing the location of our house. There was provision for the creator or unconnected third parties to add further information, such our telephone number, but not to alter the title or amend or remove the map.

This was worrying, because links to the page appeared on posts on the family’s (and other) FB pages, which also gave details of my daughter’s gigs. Effectively they said, ‘This is where we live, and this is when we’ll be out”. In the case of a burglary, it would have been enough to invalidate our contents insurance. As she is a young, female performer, we have also made efforts to ensure that information useful to stalkers was not readily in the public domain.

With advertised gigs coming up, I wanted to get rid of it pronto. However, getting the page removed appeared almost impossible. Facebook supply no means of direct contact, address or telephone number. The only option was to click ‘Report’, which led to a series of tick boxes, none of which were appropriate. I ticked the ‘Not a public place’ option as the closest, but a disclaimer made clear that, while FB would consider the report, they was no guarantee that the page would be taken down. I guessed it would take many reports to trigger a response.

Eventually I found I could claim ownership of the page, which allowed me first to change the address to a local government office in Edinburgh and make the page only available to Facebookers in Slovenia (in case, as rumour has it, even deleted accounts remain dormant), and then to delete it. There are signs that in so doing I may have also deleted the personal FB account of the person who originally posted the page, which is embarrassing but, frankly, tough luck.

I’d like to pretend that I achieved this through 1970s computer savvy and hours of machine code hacking, but no. Invited to suggest a contact for the owner of the page I gave my own email. The auto-response email from FB provided me full access.

Apart from the invasive facility to set up FB pages in other people’s names and reveal sensitive information about them, this exposes a laxity in Facebook’s access protocols which takes one breath away. Apparently an unconnected individual can take control of a community page and alter or delete information in it, without any evaluation or consent by either the original owner or Facebook.

Caveat redemptor.