Facebook introduces Trusted Contacts: It’s like giving your neighbors a spare key

facebookThere are many parallels between owning a home and owning a social media account. Both say a lot about who we are, and how we present ourselves to the world. Both are spaces – physical or virtual – in which we interact with others, and control the level at which we do so, allowing some further inside while others are shut out. And, of course, both can be hacked by outside forces and used against us by impostors taking our identities.

Okay, maybe the analogy fell apart a little towards the end, but don’t blame me entirely; I wasn’t the one who came up with it – that honor goes to Facebook, who made the connection when announcing its new Trusted Contacts feature that is, as the company puts it, like giving a friend the spare key to your house.

With Trusted Contacts, Facebook users can select between three to five of their friends who can act as gatekeepers to the user’s account. Facebook recommends users pick people they actually know in real life and can contact without using Facebook, “ideally over the phone or in person, since you’ll need to contact them when you can’t log in.”

If the user is for some reason unable to log in to their account, they can reach their trusted contacts who’ll be able to give them special security codes. Once the user has collected three of those codes, they can use the codes to enter Facebook and reclaim the troubled account.

“With trusted contacts, there’s no need to worry about remembering the answer to your security question or filling out long web forms to prove who you are,” the Facebook Security team wrote in a post announcing the new system yesterday. “You can recover your account with help from your friends.”

At a glance, the system seems like a good way to get around potential identity theft schemes that gives users some feeling of control. They get to choose their trusted friends, and not have to rely on more impersonal and occasionally arcane methods of contacting a faceless email account and hoping for the best to get things reset. The need to obtain three codes from three sources also cuts down on alternative access by hackers.

However, this requirement of three codes can feel particularly frustrating: What if you can only reach two of your five friends? Or if your trusted contacts accidentally give the wrong code? As a first step towards humanizing the security process, it’s definitely a good start, but as a finished solution? We’ll see if it’ll work out as Facebook intended.

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