The Devious, Unstoppable Way to Stalk People on Facebook (Updated)

Your girlfriend dumped you. She's probably going to unfriend you on Facebook next. But don't you want to keep an eye on her page, just for a little while? Here's how to stealthily stalk anyone on Facebook. Invincibly. Forever.

This week, two researchers at University College London put out a formal study exposing what they call a loophole in Facebook's user privacy protection system. But really, there's no bug here, no unmasked flaw. The published stratagem for stalking with impunity is just putting together two pieces of a simple puzzle: you can deactivate Facebook as many times as you want, for as long as you want. And the entire time you're deactivated, you can't be blocked or unfriended. Nobody can touch you. While deactivated, you are a ghost.

What does this mean?

The idea is this: Deactivation guerrilla warfare. Shah Mahmood and Yvo Desmedt, the university gents, describe is a little more nerdily: "The concept here is very similar to that of cloaking in Star Trek where Badass Blink or Jem'Hadar has to uncloak (be visible), even if only for a moment, to open fire." All right, sure.

But let's think of it as guerrilla warfare to avoid having to ever type "Jem'Hadar" again.

You deactivate. You're invisible. Untouchable. Lying in the grass. Focused. You can't do anything on Facebook either, but that's okay. You're just biding your time, waiting for it all to blow over. Then, when the coast is clear, you reactivate. You strike out of nowhere. Photo albums, flipped through. Walls, read. Everything you need to satiate your social networking datalust. You're engorged. Then you deactivate, slipping back into the shadows. Success.

How does this work?

Facebook doesn't care how many times you deactivate. Unlike OK Cupid, which won't let you come crawling back for a brief period after bailing (to filter out the dabblers), Facebook will let you back in literally seconds after you've turned your back on it. Why? Because, like any canny crack peddler, it knows you'll be back—and the sooner the better. What possible reason would it have to make it tricky? More membership means more money, which means more custom leashes for Zuckerberg's dog. There is no gateway. It's a revolving door.

This ease of disappearance and reappearance includes no penalty at all for switching in and out. You'll keep all of your posts, tagged photos, and the like. Your account is preserved perfectly, like some vain internet mosquito in amber. And when you're ready to access it again? Welcome back!

Wonderfully creepy ways to exploit this

Once you realize it's nearly effortless to deactivate and reactivate, you become powerful. Although we recommend severing your post-breakup digital ties—science says that's the healthy thing to do—we know the allure is hard to resist. So if you're going to indulge, at least be smart about it.

Deactivate the account the moment real-world events suggest a digital breakup is imminent. Days or weeks later, when your target's attention is turned elsewhere, run surveillance. Stick to odd hours with Facebook Chat disabled to ensure the maximum stealth quotient. But really, unless a particular person is looking for you right that second, your reactivated presence will be just a blip among a list of hundreds of other friends. The chances of you getting caught and unfriended during this brief window are slim.

In fact, as John Herrman at BuzzFeed pointed out, the study says the odds of someone simultaneously logging on and noticing your Facebook account is active—and thus being able to nuke it—are 3 in 130. So you're probably going to get away with it.

Now go be bad.

Update: ZDNet says Facebook has "fixed" this problem, but we don't know how. I haven't noticed anything different, and was able to pull it off fine last night. Let us know if you notice anything!


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