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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I dislike fake 'Dislike Button' scams on Facebook

There are a lot of things to dislike on Facebook: status updates about weird online games and those that parrot the already-discredited lies of politicians, to name two. So the ability to vote against this content by clicking a "Dislike" button must be mighty appealing -- or so you'd have to conclude from the popularity of the latest "Dislike" button scam.

The whole thing came and went yesterday. My first tip-off came when a friend who usually writes crisp, clear sentences posted an update that morning bragging that she could now "dislike all of your dumb posts lol!!"

Not long after, I came across a post on the site of security-software vendor Sophos. That explained that I had seen yet another scam preying on the distracted and the unwary.

Falling for any of these scams (which promise some lurid or eye-popping or exclusive content) typically trick you into giving a rogue Facebook application permission to access your profile, posting spam messages from your account and asking you to complete an online survey.

The only interesting twist about this con job -- which, according to the Sophos post, aimed to make money by getting users to fill out those surveys -- was its use of a legitimate Mozilla Firefox browser add-on as bait.

As you can see from the screenshots in that blog post, the pitches for this had all the other trademarks of scams: EXCESSIVE capitalization and too many exclamation points!!!

And yet people fell for it anyway. Just as they have for older Facebook scams designed to spread virally on the site -- like, say, the "get your free iPad" event another friend invited me to just this morning.

(You-must-have-memorized-these-by-now disclaimers: Post Co. Chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham sits on Facebook's board of directors, while the newspaper and an increasing number of Post staffers, myself included, use Facebook for marketing purposes.)

Unfortunately, the official Facebook Security page didn't note the fake-Dislike-button issue until late yesterday afternoon. It did so by pointing to a CNN story published some six hours earlier.

That CNN piece explained that to clean up the mess, you should click the "Account" link at the top-right corner, select "Application Settings" and click the "X" next to the phony "Dislike" application -- although Facebook may have removed it for you already.

I'd suggest that the Palo Alto, Calif., company appease the masses by adding a legitimate "Dislike" button, but you know that in a month we'd see scams offering people the ability to add "Resent," "Ignore" and "Misunderstand" buttons to comments. Plus, Facebook probably has business reasons to withhold such an option.

So if you want to express your disregard for somebody else's contribution to the Facebook conversation, you'll have to employ a little prose instead of just clicking a button. I hope there aren't too many of you who dislike that thought.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 17, 2010; 8:09 AM ET

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