A Letter of Complaint to the Facebook Customer Service Department

To the Facebook Customer Service Department,

I am writing to you because, oddly, you seem to have no phone number at which I can reach you. I consider this to be a serious oversight on your part, as it prevents your users from getting answers quickly, should something go wrong with their Facebook account. This becomes yet another frustration which is all the more unwelcome when frustrated Facebook users try to fix things up when things go wrong.

Case in point: late on Tuesday, I had the misfortune to discover that my Facebook had been deactivated. Examining the documentation of the issue, it appears that I tried accessing my Facebook account during my trip to Washington, DC, inadvertently entering the wrong password, causing Facebook to freak.

This letter of complaint isn’t about Facebook’s paranoid security procedures which disable an account the first time my finger slips on my password while being out of town. No. My complaint is over the fact that Facebook’s procedures for getting my account reactivated required me to wait more than twenty-four hours before I could even figure out what went wrong.

The problem lies primarily in how Facebook users are expected to prove who they really are. Now, I have had some experience in how other companies do this. Banks and credit card companies challenge me with my date of birth and a security question I select beforehand. Google sends a validation code as a text message to my mobile phone. Facebook does none of this. No. Instead, I am asked to go through a selection of seven photos selected randomly from my friends’ photo collections (I assume with some sort of parental filter on, because I’d hate to have to identify boobs), and identify which friend the photograph belongs to.

This strikes me as an unusually strenuous requirement. And I don’t have any choice, either. I have to guess correctly 100% of the time. I’m only allowed to say “I’m not sure” twice. And, worse: if I get my guess wrong, I have to wait a whole hour before trying again. For this reason, it wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that I was able to reactivate my Facebook account, and it was only through sheer luck that I received a bunch of photographs that I could identify.

I have over 800 friends. In many cases, I have not met these individuals face to face. But it gets even trickier when the randomly selected photographs from my friends’ photo collection include images that aren’t, by any stretch of the imagination, photographs of the friends in question.

What am I supposed to do when I’m confronted with a picture of Hello Kitty and asked whether the “photograph” belongs to the collection of Andrew Gurudata, Patricia Bow, Kathy Brainerd or an assortment of four other friends, family members or acquaintances? No, seriously: what?

I realize that Facebook cares strongly about security and privacy (especially after your PR department had its backsides handed to it by people incensed by your previous privacy and security protocols), but surely there has to be some compromise between a need for security, and the need for an average human being to access the account he or she is entitled to. Sure, I could probably figure out some of these photographs by trial and error, but it is an onerous requirement. Banks to whom I have entrusted tens of thousands of dollars do not challenge me with questions about my friends’ Hello Kitty preferences when I ask to access my money.

I call upon you to produce a more humane and remotely sensible means for a Facebook user to prove who they are. Plenty of examples for such procedures exist elsewhere in the industry, and I cannot fathom why Facebook doesn’t use them. In the past few months, Facebook has received a lot of negative publicity because of its user hostile approach to changing one’s privacy settings. I appreciate the fact that you’ve worked to make things easier, but your system will not be seen as truly user friendly as long as individuals find themselves so severely inconvenienced when things go wrong. It doesn’t take much to fix this situation. Only some common sense.

Yours sincerely, James Bow

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