The Facebook dungeon of unrecognized devices

Here I am on the road with my new Macbook Air – sleek, shiny, and tiny, running SL in Ultra – with shadows! It still has that new computer smell. I’m snuggled into my jammies in my hotel room, window open to a sweet night breeze, early starlight, and a chorus of singing crickets. I’m all settled down for a long summer’s night of surfing, blogging, and facebooking. When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but this horrible message from the noble defenders of my Facebook account:

“There was a suspicious login to your account. Your account was recently accessed from a device we’re not familiar with. For your protection, we’ve temporarily locked your account until you can review this activity and make sure no one is using your account without your permission.”

Eek! My Facebook account … locked.  My new computer does not consider this a very welcoming gesture. Just because he’s a newbie, Zuckerberg & Co. have locked him out! Too late I find out that this is a result of Facebook’s upgrade to its security system in May, 2011. Had I been one of the 6,677,333 people who like the “Facebook Security” page, which you can find here, I would have known that. Sigh.

A louder chord of fear

I race to the Facebook Help Center on “Confirming your identity.” But the words there strike an even louder chord of fear: “You are seeing this message because Facebook has detected suspicious activity on your account and has temporarily suspended it as a security precaution.” Suspended! Eek again! “Suspended” sounds even worse than “locked.”

I race to my gmail account, heart in hand, hoping Facebook will comfort me with a quick fix. “Did you log into Facebook from a new device or an unusual location?” the opening line from a Facebook e-mail asks. “Yes, Yes,” I answer breathlessly, hoping Facebook can somehow hear me through the email bytes. “It was me, honest it was! It wasn’t suspicious or unfamiliar.”

And then, remembering my manners, I introduce my new colleague. “This is Shadow, my new computer. He won’t cause any trouble. I promise!”

But then I see a ray of hope in the email from Facebook: “If this was you, there’s no need to worry. Simply log into Facebook again to get back into your account.” I let out a sigh of relief and breathe easier. Good ol’ Facebook. They’ve got my back after all.

A bitter betrayal stabs the heart

Not so! Facebook’s bitter betrayal stabs me in the heart, as I close Safari and Facebook, open both again, then try to log into Facebook. No luck. Same alarming “locked” message. Uh-oh. I race over to Chrome. And Firefox. Surely I can beat Facebook to one of them. But no, The Security Team has arrived ahead of me! My account is already locked from both browsers! Front door, back door, side door – all locked. Eep.

But the onscreen message offers hope: “Please review your recent activity to make sure no one is using your Facebook account without permission. Reviewing your activity takes just a few moments. We’ll start by asking you a couple of questions to confirm that this is your account.”

It only offers one question, which is apparently the Security Question I gave Facebook on some foggy long-ago day when I first set up my Facebook account. Can I remember the answer? Well, maybe. But “maybe” is not good enough. I may only have this one chance to make it right with Facebook.

No turning back, I’m on the lam now …

Snuggling deep into my jammies, I don sunglasses and look about furtively. I quickly click the tiny print at the bottom of the screen: “Choose another verification method.” Yes! A window pops up. “Identify your friends?” it asks. “Sure,” I enthuse. No turning back. I’m on the lam now. Running hard from the the hulking Security Question goon.

Facebook immediately begins to parade pictures of my friends in front of me – a virtual Law & Order lineup. I’m in that little ID room with the one-way windows, looking at 3 photos of each friend. Underneath each set of snaps are 6 multiple-choice names of my friends, with little clickable bubbles in front of them. I am supposed to select the correct friend to match the snaps. It is a big challenge right from the get-go.

Who is an owl and who is a cosmic starburst?

Understand that these are not photos that my friends have posted; they are photos in which my friends have been tagged. And people tag pictures for all kinds of reasons other than identification. They tag photos to be funny, to get the pic on someone’s wall, for general amusement, etc.  Among the photos purporting to be my “friends” are an avie with red hair down to the floor, a breedable Troubot Robot, and some kind of metal-studded assembly line. Now to be fair, some of the displayed pics do appear to be profile shots, which is encouraging, except that Facebook profile pix are so … creative. Profile pics range from babies to artistic designs to animals to … Trying to remember who is an owl and who is a cosmic starburst puts me to the test. And I’m not sure I know what all my friends look like anyway. I have a number of friends. If someone asks to be my friend, I always say OK. I figure they have their reasons for asking. But I don’t know what they look like. And besides, looks change daily for a lot of us.

Playing tag with Facebook

Still, I get several of the choices right, I think. But I’m not sure since Facebook doesn’t show its hand. But two choices stump me, and I have to choose “skip.” And Facebook only allows me two skips. Again, I am down to my last choice – I have to get it right this time.

My RL friend in the hotel room manages to stop laughing long enough to access my Facebook page on his Kindle so we can compare my friends pics there to the ones Facebook is displaying in its lineup. Brilliant! We try, but no success. Zuckerberg & Co. are a step ahead of me, again! Remember, these are photos in which my friends have been tagged. So they don’t necessarily show up in the photo albums of my friends. Or maybe my friends have not made the pix public. Who knows? The point is, we can’t narrow my last choice down to any less than 3 friends.

My virtual Millionnaire moment

It is a virtual Millionnaire moment: Get it right, and I take home the prize. Get it wrong, and I lose everything, i.e., access to my Facebook account. Should I go and beg the Security goon for another chance?  The question really boils down to: Which am I less unsure about: my security question, or my friends lineup?

I opt for the Security Question. Heart in throat, I type in my best guess, click, and …drum roll here while the Facebook engine grinds my fate … Yes! I’ve guessed right! Yay! I’m back in. Whew! /me wipes forehead in relief.

What To Do So This Never Happens To You

1. Run, don’t walk, to Account Settings in your Facebook account and set your Security Question, if you haven’t already. That way you will never have to ID your friends in the laughable FB lineup.

BIG IMPORTANT NOTE: Once you set your Security Question, you can never change it, even look at it, ever again. FB keeps it locked up in a dark dungeon protected by The Security Team. Why? According to this unhelpful apology in a Facebook FAQ, “We want to make sure that your account and the information in it stays safe, so once you set up a security question on your account there’s no way to update it. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

So be sure to make your Q&A memorable, and write it down somewhere that you’ll never lose track of. Btw, Facebook’s apology is hidden deep in another dark Facebook dungeon here, hard to find, and not included with the instructions when you set your Security Question here.

Here’s how to set your Facebook Security Question:

  • Choose Account Settings.
  • From the left column menu, click Security.
  • Click on the Security Question section and follow the onsite steps. Note: You won’t see this section if you’ve already added a security question to your account.

2. Under Account Settings, Security, Login Approvals, un-toggle the box next to “Require me to enter a security code each time an unrecognized computer or device tries to access my account.”

NOTE: This probably won’t keep you from having your account locked when you use a new computer. At least it did nothing for me. I had this option un-toggled, and the Security Goon Squad still locked my account when I tried to use my new computer.

3. Let me know in the Comments if you succeed with “Login Approvals” to solve this problem. Facebook explains this option here: an opt-in security feature similar to login notifications (which sends you an email when an unrecognized device tries to access your account), but with an extra security step. With login approvals, you’ll be asked to enter a special login code each time you try to access your Facebook account from a new computer or mobile phone.

This all sounded good, but since I could not find the instructions to set the code, I was reluctant. What if I could never set the code? Eep. I’d be out in the cold, again. But you can at least find out which, if any, devices are “recognized” in your account at Account Settings, Security , Recognized Devices. I don’t have any listed, even now that Shadow got through the Security Check.

But I haven’t given up. I am sure a nice friendly company like Facebook will show us a way to keep the joy of that “new computer” experience without locking us out of our accounts or giving us complex protocols only the CIA can follow. Now if only I can find my way out of these dungeons …

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