Facebook 'horror movie' cyber-stalk alarm
Facebook is becoming an ever more intrusive feature of websites, but just how much of your personal life do you give up each time you click the "Connect with Facebook" button?
The danger in exposing your personal life is being laid bare by Takethislollipop.com, a new site that turns the popular social network into a personal horror movie, which is creeping out hundreds of thousands of users across the web.
The man behind the site, Jason Zada, a director at award-winning production company Tool of North America, claims it is not an attempt to gain personal information and reassured users who were wanting to test it out that he had made "very, very, very clear decisions" not to save anyone's details.
"We don't save anything. There's no session that we have or that kind of stuff. It's just what you saw is what's yours and that's it. At the end of that you can watch it again but you can't send it to anybody."
The site takes users on a gut-wrenching journey, with an unhinged sweaty man wearing a white singlet gaining access to your Facebook account and stalking it. A video features him looking through your personal photos and friends' wall posts - obtained when users sign in with their Facebook account - and is a demonstration of how much information people share on the web, Zada said.
At the end of the video a timer counts down from 60 minutes and a friend's name is shown as being "next" to experience the scare. Throughout the short film various scenes use different information gained via your Facebook account to creep you out, such as your profile image being stuck to the dashboard of a car after the city where you live is displayed on Google Maps.
Speaking in a telephone interview with Fairfax Media, Zada said he had created sites in the past that had gone viral quickly but none had "ramp[ed] up as fast as this did without any PR or anything sort of pushing behind it".
He said the site was built as an "interesting test" to see what a person's trust levels were like with a site owned by someone they did not know.
"All of this is in good fun and I think that it was important for me not to violate peoples' trust at the end of the day but to make them feel uneasy at least for ... two minutes.
"I think we want ways of doing things faster and easier and I think that that button - that little button that says 'Connect with Facebook' - just seems to be a very easy thing for people to [click] and I felt with this, especially, 'What would it take for somebody to take that bait and click that?'
"And I really felt a lot of it was going to be if your friend says 'You've got to see this, it's really interesting', you're probably going to trust your friend."
Mr Zada worked on filming and creating the site, which has had almost 300,000 users "like" it on Facebook and millions of others visit it and give it permission to access their account. He made it within a month and said that some of his friends who were horror movie fans got more chills watching it than watching a horror film in a cinema.
"One of my friends said that 'I sat through an hour and 45 minutes of a horror movie in the movie theatres two weeks ago and I didn't have anything close to the same emotional reaction that I had during this'."
Before launch, the site was tested on a few of Mr Zada's friends and he used Skype to monitor their reaction on webcam. "After watching three people watch [it] I knew instantly that this was going to definitely ... ruffle people's feathers," he said.
Out of the "few million hits" the site has had in the past two days already, Mr Zada said "about half" of those visiting it had given it permission to access their Facebook account. He said he was at first surprised by why it wouldn't be higher.
"I've had people that go to the site and they see that it's Facebook Connect and they go 'I'm not going to do this' but then later they've heard about it through three or four people and they'll go back and do it."
Though he did nothing that harmed users or their information, he said less-scrupulous website operators potentially could. "I think for most people you probably could do harm with something like this. But our goal is more in the same way of watching a really great horror movie to get that emotional scare out of somebody but to not do anything malicious."
He described watching the site as being like a rollercoaster ride. "It's a bit scary but at the end you get off and everything is fine again".
Asked what happens after the timer at the end of the video runs out, Mr Zada said: "I've always turned it back around to the person [who asks]. I ask 'What happened to you? What do you think happens?' I'm hoping that there may be things that happened or there may be nothing that happens. Maybe you find yourself sort of locking the doors a little earlier. Maybe you find yourself walking a bit quicker down a hallway. I think that what happens afterwards is really up to [the person who watches it]."
The timer was added because he wanted people to think about the site for longer than five seconds. "There's been people that leave the site open for a full hour just to see if anything will happen. I think that's just an interesting sort of psychological thing."
Mr Zada said he released the site in time for Halloween because he loved the season and "felt like the world kind of needed a good collective scare".
"I guess at the end of the day it is quite innocent if you look at it: there's no blood, there's no guts, there's actually nothing bad that happens in the video at all. But I think that on the emotional side of things it does scare you a little bit because you kind of do feel a bit violated."
Sydney Morning Herald