Facebook video chat - what could possibly go wrong?

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Microsoft, Privacy, Social networks

Facebook has just announced its video chat service, though it's officially named Video Calling. Presumably that gives it a bit more cachet than a mere "chat" service.

It's powered by Skype, which is probably an excellent thing. You have probably already decided whether you trust Skype and its technology, so you're not sailing entirely into the unknown on that score.

And Skype is now owned by Microsoft, a company you've probably also already decided whether you trust or not. (If you are reading this on a Windows computer, an accurate first approximation is that you do.)

Microsoft, despite being the archetype of closed-source software vendors, has consistently improved its attitude to security over the past 20 years, when it first wandered into the security field with a badge-engineered version of Central Point Anti-Virus.

Microsoft owns Skype. Skype and Facebook have joined forces.

Microsoft is much bigger - and used to being much bigger - than Facebook. Microsoft has many more developers than Facebook. Many more of those many more developers are involved with security. And Microsoft is not as much fun as Facebook. Fun is good, but like many things, too much fun often gets in the way of security.

Perhaps, then, Facebook + Microsoft-by-way-of-Skype will cause some of Redmond's recognition of the long-term value of security to rub off on the social networking giant.

In the meantime, don't let your guard down just because you're video calling directly from Facebook, where you're used to having fun. In particular, review who your friends are.

And watch out for calls from hijacked accounts, or from borderline "friends", just as you ought to do via any other messaging service, including email.

Scammers must be licking their lips at a low-cost way of getting literally in your face. Old scams have a way of seeming new and unexpected when they migrate to a new medium.

In particular, watch out for Stranded in [Foreign Location] scams. Voices can be hard to recognise reliably on poor-quality links, and video may be unrecognisable. You probably know the deal: a friend contacts you from an overseas trip. They've lost everything - credit cards, passport, cash, hotel key! They need $1000 wired via cash transfer as soon as possible so they can afford to get to their feet. Help!

Check via an alternative channel if your friend really is in trouble. Give them a phone call. Ask a mutual friend. Is the friend-in-trouble even in [Foreign Location]?

And watch out for Fake Support Call scams. Again, you can imagine the story. The caller is "from Facebook," or "with Skype". They're calling from the hacked account of a friend - unusual, of course, but this is an emergency! - to advise all the friends of that friend that they, too, may be compromised.

Could you quickly check for an error in the Event Viewer? Oh, no! Not the dreaded "Service Failed To Start" error! What good fortune! The caller just happens to be able to help you. Just $300 and the trouble will go away. (That bit is true. $300 and they'll stop haranguing you. For the time being.)

Hang up. You didn't ask for help, so even if you think you need help now, consult a real-world friend you know and trust. Ask them to guide you.

Here's some straight-talking advice on this issue:


(Duration 6:15 minutes, size 4.5MBytes)

There's no reason why you can't have loads of fun with this new Facebook + Microsoft-by-way-of-Skype venture. Just don't let the novelty of it lead you astray.

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12 Responses to Facebook video chat - what could possibly go wrong?

  1. Brandi · 1022 days ago

    In the days leading up to this, as CNN put it, "awesome" announcement, I've noticed that I am somehow automatically logged into the Facebook chat function when I log into Facebook. This never used to be the case, and I never use the chat function (nor do I want to.). I cannot find any info that tells me how I can fix this problem ... and of course I feel like something fishy is going on with Facebook and its privacy settings again. Do you guys have any tips?

    • zzguardian · 1022 days ago

      Are you using a facebook app on any smartphone? That causes it to happen too. Either way, safe thing to do is check your designated emails, then change your password. Also check for any unauthorized apps you may have accidentally added or authorized in facebook and remove them.

      An extra step (if you're paranoid) would be to also change your passwords on your email accounts after checking them for any suspicious stuff too like 'forwarding' of email or extra 'connected' email accounts. Might want to chage your security questions too while your at it.

    • FB User · 1021 days ago

      This is happening to me as well. The "chat" box opens up, says something about clicking to try, and if you click ANYWHERE on the page it logs you into chat. Everyone listed is faded out, though. You have to click 10-20 times to get it to open up and stay open so that you can click the gear to log out of the chat. Sometimes just going from my timeline to my profile logs it in. It's an auto-login and it's annoying and there seems to be no way to turn it off. I use FB with the https:// enabled so I don't know how this is happening - and FB isn't giving any answers in their "help" section.

    • FB User · 1021 days ago

      I've tried to replicate the issue. Here's what it says: "A Faster Way to Message /
      Just click to start a conversation with the friends you message the most. / Learn more. Button: Try it now

      Regardless of whether you click on it or not, it will log you in to chat. The friends are greyed out in the list. Once you are logged in, it's almost impossible to log out. You have to click to open it up, but since it's all greyed out you cannot get the gear symbol to log out. Eventually you do get lucky and can click the gear, and uncheck "Available to chat". Good luck getting it to stick, though.

  2. dave · 1022 days ago

    i'm also lookin for a way to disable/remove the chat/video chat.. any hints/help would b much appreciated

  3. Andy · 1021 days ago

    waiting for fake calls in finnish :)

  4. Tony Heskett · 1021 days ago

    So I've turned Chat off a few times, and it keeps coming back, alive. Pffft. Rubbish.

    But you can select "Limit availability to..." and then pick a list with no members.
    I'm going with that "solution", for the moment.

    And I'll maybe hide the Chat pane with Adblock Plus Element Hiding Helper.

    Please let me know if you find a better fix.

  5. -kg- · 1020 days ago

    So, what, in your estimation, will be the NEXT thing that Facebook will "improve"? ):-(

    The new chat app is irritating in the extreme.

  6. Brandi · 1020 days ago

    Glad to hear I'm not the only one with this problem. I think I'll go with the idea of the ghost chat list ...

  7. Kylie · 1018 days ago

    Funny. I see my "smarter way to message" as a panel on the right, but I've never clicked on it, and it's not interfering with my normal facebook use at all. Could this be because I never log out of Facebook and I never sign in to chat?

  8. unknown · 602 days ago

    is video chat is safe done on skype with facebook friends

  9. siddy · 464 days ago

    hey i have a doubt... is this facebook video chat safe.... i mean can a third person secretly watch other ppl what they do ove video chat???

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About the author

Paul Ducklin is a passionate security proselytiser. (That's like an evangelist, but more so!) He lives and breathes computer security, and would be happy for you to do so, too. Paul won the inaugural AusCERT Director's Award for Individual Excellence in Computer Security in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @duckblog