I got Facejacked!

I found a Facebook app that was using my photo to promote its product, and tried to report it. Hilarity ensued.

Nic Healey Senior Editor / Australia
Nic Healey is a Senior Editor with CNET, based in the Australia office. His passions include bourbon, video games and boring strangers with photos of his cat.
Nic Healey
6 min read

None of these three things are accurate.
(Screenshot by Nic Healey/CNET Australia)

I found a Facebook app that was using my photo to promote its product, and tried to report it. Hilarity ensued.

On the night of 15 January 2013, I got a very unusual MMS — just a single image with the only text being googly eyes (o_O) and three question marks.

The image was a screen grab from someone's Facebook page of the ad strip down the side. There was my face, apparently now belonging to a Stephen, 44, from Melbourne, who was happily telling the world about the cash he makes from working at home.

It didn't take long for other friends to follow via text and Twitter, all asking "what the hell?" or (more usually, given my friends) mocking me for the additional years Stephen has on my true age. Also the idea that I came from Melbourne, being mostly a very proud Sydneysider who's happily declared more than once that there's no better place to live in the world.

Now, being mocked for a Facebook photo isn't exactly news, but even given the weird circumstances, there were two key points at work. One: that was my official work headshot only appearing on this site; and two: I haven't had a Facebook account for around three years now.

The ad was for something called Play Forex, but discovering what that actually was took a little time. It seemed that with a bit of Googling, the most likely candidate was a Russian business called Play Forex. Its site, sadly, is in its mother tongue. Google translate helped me work out that PlayForex.ru is either a financial institution letting you speculate on the foreign exchange market, or a game that replicates the experience. In all honesty, it wasn't clear, as initially none of the links worked, and I couldn't find any contact details on the site.

I got a friend to send me the link that came with the ad, assuming I'd find more information there — but clicking that sent me back to a Facebook page demanding that I log in before being able to go farther. As mentioned before, I have no Facebook, which kinda made this problematic.

I tried going directly to apps.facebook.com/play_forex, which was the direct URL of the embedded link that appeared after you'd clicked through. It very briefly showed me a mostly blank page before redirecting me back to the log-in:

(Screenshot by Nic Healey/CNET Australia)

On that mostly blank page was a small link on the upper right, asking me whether I needed to report or contact this app. "Yes," I thought. "I'd kinda like to do both of those." Alas and alack, clicking rapidly on that link in the one second before the redirect to Facebook log-in did absolutely nothing. This was getting frustrating.

Finally, I tried clicking the "app terms" before the redirect. That took me to a website called Play-Options.com, which gave me the T&Cs for play-markets.com. (My sincerest apologies to Russia for initial mix-up, by the way.) Play Markets redirected to Play Options, which was a little confusing, and the single bit of contact info was info@play-markets.com. A Whois search got me a contact number for a chap in Israel. I emailed to let him know my issues. I've yet to hear back. (Although in all fairness to him, it was 3am his time when I emailed.)

But what, I thought, if I hadn't been able to do that? What if I hadn't been quick enough to click the app terms link before the redirect? Even if I had, what if I didn't know how to do a domain name look-up? After all, I'm apparently 44, and I assume my tech skills are terrible.

I decided to see what Facebook would do to help me in this scenario.

Tracking down the Facebook Help Centre, I found a link on how to report an app. It told me to head to the App Centre, find the app, click on the link and then find the "report a problem" link on the bottom.

The App Centre, it transpires, has no readily visible search function, and I couldn't find Play Forex easily amongst the somewhere over 9 million apps that Facebook supports. So, no dice there.

I worked a little Google fu and found a site dedicated to app metrics, which had some info on the Play Forex Facebook app. According to it, the app was listed under Games > Simulation, so I scoured that category until I hit the "no more apps to show" part, with still no Play Forex located.

I went back to the Help Centre and found a "Don't have an account?" option under the "Report Something" section. It was limited. I could find out more about reporting harassment or abuse without an account. I could report a fake account using my name. I could opt out of reminder emails from Facebook. Or I could try the wonderfully mystifying "How do I report something on Facebook that I can't see?" It certainly seemed the closest.

It mostly dealt with content on Facebook that violated "Community Standards", but it also had this:

If you're unable to use a report link because you don't have a Facebook account or you can't see whatever you're trying to report, please file a report here.

I clicked and got the following screen:

(Screenshot by Nic Healey/CNET Australia)

Of all the options, I assumed that the photo one seemed the most appropriate. Choosing it took me to another page, which took me to yet another page, which gave me some information about Image Privacy Rights.

I tried clicking on the section talking about Copyright and Intellectual Property — after all, my headshot is technically the property of CBS Interactive. This sent me through a spiralling rabbit hole that brought me back to the original Image Privacy Rights page three times.

Finally — and I do not actually recall what I clicked on to get there — I ended up on a page that included to option to report intellectual property infringement on a third-party app not built by Facebook.


...turned to ashes in my mouth, as I read the following:

Some applications, as you may know, are created and operated by third-party developers. As such, Facebook does not have the ability to control the content made available through these applications.

That being said, if a third-party application developer does not comply with his/her legal obligations related to content issues, that developer may be in breach of our Statement of Rights & Responsibilities. We suggest contacting the developer of this application directly with your concerns. After working with this developer, please let us know if the problem persists.

The tl;dr version: I needed to contact the app dev first, something that many people may have found impossible to do so far. Back to the drawing board.

I went back to the No Account, Report Something section and eventually got through to a form letting me report a "Violation or Infringement of [my] Rights". This was a lengthy process with a number of fields to fill out, and even required a digital signature. I hit submit.

And it was rejected. You see, I'd included a link to CNET.com.au so they could verify the use of my headshot. But only Facebook URLs are accepted — I had to change it to "CNET Australia". And it was rejected again, because actually, the field marked "Please identify the content on Facebook that you allege is violating or infringing your rights. Please provide links (URLs) to the specific content wherever possible" would only accept links and no other text. At all.

I juggled a bit of text around and hit submit, getting notification that Facebook would email me shortly.

The email did indeed arrive soon after reading, in part:

The Facebook Team received a report from you. Please note that this channel is only for reports of alleged infringements or violations of your legal rights, such as copyright or trademark. If you filed that type of report, no further action is necessary.

It ended with, "We will look into your matter shortly." No time frame, no promise of further contact, no nothing.

So, where does that leave me? Either at the mercy of the owner of the site that stole my beautiful face to begin with, or at the mercy of Facebook, a towering monolith of a company that hasn't exactly proven agile or compassionate when it comes to complaints in the past.

I'm currently taking bets on who'll respond first.