How does remotely accessing somebody else's computer even work, anyway?
May 31, 2012 10:09 AM   Subscribe

I just visited Facebook and it showed me the login screen with the email address of the guy I'm dating as the username. I was using FB earlier today, puttering around, sending messages and whatnot, and I haven't logged out of FB or restarted my Mac since. What's going on here? Am I paranoid to think that he (or someone else) could have remotely accessed my computer?

As far as I know, he's never logged into Facebook (or anything else) on my computer, and wouldn't have had the means to do so for several days now anyway. Is there a benign explanation here? I'd like to think so, as I'd be really, really surprised if he did this, although he has the skills.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (19 answers total)
Did this all happen in the browser you usually use, or is it possible you opened a different browser (the one he may have used in the past to access his account)?
posted by hamandcheese at 10:12 AM on May 31, 2012

You know, if you ever typed his username into anything, including the To: field of an e-mail site, your browser made have just made a bad guess and stuck it in there.
posted by steinsaltz at 10:19 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's simply your browser making recommendations based upon past occasions when your boyfriend checked his facebook from your computer.1 There isn't afaik any reason for anyone to remotely access your boyfriend's facebook account through your browser though.2

1 I keep one browser configured inside a sandboxed that forgets everything for flash games and guests. You could use Mac OS X guest accounts for this.

2 There is a loony scenario where some guy activated a VNC on your machine, knows you're dating your boyfriend, and tries obtaining your boyfriend's password from your browser's history, but that's pretty silly.

posted by jeffburdges at 10:25 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

If he had remote access to your computer, why would he use it to log in to his own Facebook account remotely? This makes no sense.
posted by grouse at 10:27 AM on May 31, 2012 [14 favorites]

Can't you just ask him if he ever logged in on your computer? I mean, there would be no reason/benefit to him to do this, benign or otherwise, with his own account.
posted by sm1tten at 10:29 AM on May 31, 2012

As people said, your browser offers you a list of things that might be what you need to enter in the field.

That guess is based on things like that Facebook says the field is an email address or it says it's a username or whatever, and then your browser looks up what you've typed even on other sites into a field that had the exact same field name, and suggests it.

My own suggestions in that field include login ids that I used for things like scribd and on-demand TV that have nothing at all to do with FB.
posted by philipy at 10:31 AM on May 31, 2012

If he did in fact use your computer (locally or remotely), and you're seeing his email address in the Facebook log-in form, that means he logged into his FB account. That's not exactly what someone would do if they were trying to be sneaky and pry into *your* stuff.

I say give it a shrug, tuck it into your memory, and chalk it up as a harmless anomaly. Seriously, it's probably nothing. And if it isn't nothing, something else will happen and you can go from there.

Oh, and there's no harm is saying something like "hey, I went to FB today and your email address was in the login field. Did you use log into facebook on my computer?" Not accusingly, more just like it was weird and you were curious.
posted by TonyRobots at 10:33 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I imagine the most likely situation is that he has used your computer to check Facebook. Your browser remembers his username and inserted it into the login field. As was mentioned, if he did remotely access your computer, I doubt he would login to Facebook.
posted by Nightman at 10:36 AM on May 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Definitely paranoid. Why would your first reaction to seeing that be that he remotely accessed your computer and then used it to check facebook?
posted by thewumpusisdead at 10:56 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Did you get an email from him which forwarded an email he received with a Facebook link? That is, did HE get an email notification from Facebook that he forwarded to your email, and you clicked a link in that forwarded email?

(The email he received would encode his email address, and if he forwarded it to you and clicked on a link in it, FB would open at the login screen with his email prefilled, even if you were logged in to FB in your account. This is one sure explanation, if this is what happened.)
posted by caclwmr4 at 10:58 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, you're being paranoid. He didn't log into your computer remotely.
posted by The Lamplighter at 11:10 AM on May 31, 2012

Is it possible he used a partner service on your machine? The few Living Social deals I have bought required me to login via my Facebook account, and there are countless other sites that let you "Like" their pages and presumably require you to log in to do so.
posted by I am the Walrus at 11:14 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Look in the history to see if anything is there that you aren't expecting. Or, did you visit a website that he was somehow logged into that is connected with Facebook?
posted by gjc at 11:47 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think it sounds really suspicious - and WHICH sites were accessed shouldn't matter. I mean, does it matter if someone breaks into your house and steals a spoon instead of your money? Why would they take a spoon - it doesn't make sense! ...well, unless they're being petty and messing with you - trying to show you they have the ability to get into your home and take what they want, when they want. Then it makes perfect sense.

Oftentimes initial stages of stalking are dismissed as the woman being paranoid or silly.

Now - that said I don't necessarily think this is stalking, just that you shouldn't dismiss it. I agree with some of the advice you were given above - double-check this isn't a new browser, one which he may have used in the past, without you knowing. If it is, I would recommend you having a chat with him about boundary issues - that is, not using your computer without letting you know.

If it was actually the same browser your normally use, do check your history. If strange sites come up, again, ask him what's up (preferably in a public place).

The fact that you didn't logout and it showed you the login screen with his ID kind of rules out the "auto-fill" idea. If you'd logged out and then had to login again, and started typing and his name showed up, then the autofill would be a valid hypothesis, but it doesn't sound like that's what happened.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 12:14 PM on May 31, 2012

I think it sounds really suspicious

I don't. This happens all the time with my wife and I on our different computers. Sometimes the browser suggests one of us or the other in the login field. This is not an autocomplete scenario, this is Facebook storing cookies (or something). The page itself loads with an email address in the field already.

And I'm all for personal boundaries, but if a girlfriend told me to stay off her computer, I'd be the one wondering what her problem is. Unless you have other reasons to be suspicious about this guy, this doesn't sound like a very big deal.
posted by hamandcheese at 12:26 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

You know, if you ever typed his username into anything, including the To: field of an e-mail site, your browser made have just made a bad guess and stuck it in there.

This. My parent's computer has a gigantic list of possible 'logins' that comes up on facebook, including several addresses I know for sure have never been associated with a facebook account, and several of which haven't been used in over a year. My computer doesn't because I have most of the remember this type stuff turned off, whereas Mum and Dad left everything turned on to the (most annoying possible) factory defaults. Your boyfriend probably used that email address somewhere on that computer just once and it's populating it automatically.

I've also been thrown out of facebook and shown the login screen at random times for no obvious reason. It may not even be logged out, it just gets sent to that screen for some reason (maybe some other page running a facebook plugin messed it up somehow). I know I also sometimes log out of facebook when I didn't mean too, so I haven't taken much notice of why it happens. Your boyfriend's email is probably before yours alphabetically, or by some other weird metric your browser is coming up with, so that's why it was shown in the box. If you pressed the down arrow you should have seen yours there too.
posted by shelleycat at 12:43 PM on May 31, 2012

Nothing suspicious about it. He's logged into Facebook at least once from your computer, and the login-name cookie is stored. NBD. You can't get into his account UNLESS your browser specifically stores passwords automatically, and he can't use those cookies to do anything remotely - nor anything at all except to log in to his own FB acct again, next time he visits.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:47 PM on May 31, 2012

I have gone to sites I have never visited before and have found that when I clicked in the email box, Firefox suggested one of my or my friends' email addresses. Why? Because some other page where we did enter the address used the same unique name for that text entry box as the new site's text entry box. (This is in the HTML coding: you won't see it on the screen).

So one site might suggest one subset of addresses (two of mine, one of a friend's) and another site might suggest one of mine and one of my friend's, even though neither of us have been to those sites before. It's not the browser making a bad or random guess; it's the browser being logical but wrong because, "Hey, it's the "emailaddress" box! Let's suggest the same name we last used for "emailaddress" box yesterday!" -- which was on a totally different site.
posted by maudlin at 3:02 PM on May 31, 2012

As far as the not logging out thing goes, Facebook can be buggy and in fact had an outage this evening. Also, it sometimes logs me out if I log on in too many other places (phone, iPad, friends' machines, etc.)
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:17 PM on May 31, 2012

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