It is not unusual for teenagers to have 500 or 1,000 friends on Facebook, some of whom they have never met in real life. That is why a team at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel has developed an application for users, and parents of users, to screen Facebook friends for criminals or pedophiles with one click.
There are three different levels of the application, developed by undergraduates at the university. One identifies Facebook “friends” that may pose a potential threat, and limits their access to the profile. The second level expands Facebook’s privacy settings based on different usage profiles. Third, it alerts users to a number of installed applications furnished by third-parties who can access users’ private information.
The software analyzes friends to discern their level of “connectedness,” based on the amount of messages they send, pictures they are tagged in together, groups in which they are mutually enrolled in and, of course, common friends. The lower the number is, the lower the level of connectedness between two friends. The app lists the friends whose numbers score particularly low and recommends unfriending them.
Though they initially set out to search for pedophiles, researchers also realized that the software might be useful for finding people online who were not who they claimed to be. The team was inspired by finding a particular profile on several different social networking sites. After analyzing the user's pictures for watermarks, the developers discovered that the photos on the profiles belonged to a person who lived in a completely different country than this user did.
While it is certainly possible to limit Facebook friends’ profile interaction through Facebook directly, with every passing revamp of the social network’s website, it has gotten increasingly difficult to find out where the privacy settings are. For impatient teenagers, and concerned parents, the app may help ease peace of mind.
While the developers are certain about the quality of the product, some would-be users complain that it was not that the application was not as user-friendly as they would have liked.
There is a version available on Firefox to download. Facebook is currently reviewing the application for use on its site.