Slate's Farhad Manjoo answers your questions about how to sell an iPhone, Facebook impostors, and computer spies.

Slate's Farhad Manjoo answers your questions about how to sell an iPhone, Facebook impostors, and computer spies.

Slate's Farhad Manjoo answers your questions about how to sell an iPhone, Facebook impostors, and computer spies.

Your tech questions answered.
Aug. 17 2010 6:03 PM

Fakebook

Slate's tech-advice column on how to sell an iPhone, social-networking impostors, and computer spies.

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If you've got a burning tech problem you want solved, please send a note to farhad.manjoo@slate.com, with "I've got a tech question!" as the subject line. (Your question may be edited.) You can also read previous "Dear Farhad" columns here and here.

Dear Farhad,

I'm a devoted Apple fan, so of course I bought the iPhone 4 when it was released back in July. I love it, but I've got a problem: What should I do with my old iPhone? Can I give it to a friend? Can I sell it? Or am I better off stuffing it in a drawer to look at fondly in 10 years' time?

—Too Many iPhones

Dear Too Many,

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I'm usually an advocate for charity, but in this case, whatever you do, don't give away your old iPhone. Depending on the specific model and how well you've cared for it, last year's iPhone could be worth a lot of money—indeed, there's a good chance you'll be able to sell it for more than you paid for it. Then you can give the money to an iPhone-deprived friend (or take yourself out to a nice restaurant).

At the moment, the phone trade-in site CellForCash.com is offering $240 for a 32GB iPhone 3GS, and $140 for a 16GB version—in each case, that's about $60 less than those phones sold for when they were new. You can get even more on eBay. Judging by current auctions, a 16GB iPhone 3GS in good condition will score you at least $300, while a 32GB version is going for $350 or more. I sold my own 32 GB iPhone 3GS this weekend for $355. If you "jailbreak" and unlock your phone—rendering it capable of working on cell carriers besides AT&T—you'll get even more cash.

Yes, these prices don't seem to make sense. After all, you can buy Apple's newest iPhone for $199 with a two-year contract. Why would anybody pay more than that for last year's phone?

The key words there are "with a two-year contract." When someone buys your old iPhone on eBay, he can use it on his cell carrier, whether that's AT&T or some other compatible network anywhere in the world, even in places where Apple doesn't currently sell the iPhone. Most importantly, he isn't required to sign up for any kind of contract. It's not the phone that's commanding the premium. It's the freedom.

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This points to a long-term strategy for the iPhone-buying public. As long as iPhones remain relatively scarce compared with demand—that is, as long as the phone remains available only on AT&T in the United States, and as long as there are people around the world who'd like an iPhone but can't get one—then the resale value of year-old phones is likely to remain pretty high.

If you play your cards right, this means you'll be able to upgrade your iPhone for free in perpetuity. If you buy the iPhone 4 today for $200 with a contract and you treat it lovingly, you'll probably be able to sell it next August for $300. If you're eligible for an upgrade from AT&T (it depends on your plan, though chances are you will be), you can use your proceeds to buy an iPhone 5. Then you can sell that the next year … and so on.

In general, Apple products command a higher resale value than products from other tech manufacturers, but some version of this strategy could apply to other phones, too. Last November, Verizon launched the Motorola Droid; it initially sold for $199 with a two-year-contract. Then, in July, Motorola put out a successor, the Droid X. On eBay right now, the original Droid is selling for between $150 and $175—not too much less than its original price.

—Farhad

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Dear Farhad,

Someone is impersonating my 15-year-old daughter on Facebook. The person has copied and pasted her pictures on the site and has written many derogatory comments. The person is also friending everyone in my daughter's circle. I called the authorities, and they told me that they can't do anything about it. I called my Internet provider, who told me I need to report it to Facebook. I have reported it to Facebook many times with no response. My daughter is extremely upset and embarrassed by all of this. Any suggestions?

—Fakes All Over Facebook

Dear Fakes,

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Unfortunately, this seems to be a common problem. Over the last few months I've received at least three questions about how to deal with Facebook impostors. My colleague Emily Bazelon, who has been reporting on how kids use the Web to bully one another, found several similar stories when she looked at this issue in March.

Like Bazelon, I couldn't find much help for parents in your situation. When I asked a Facebook rep what to do about your problem, she pointed me to this page, which explains how to use the "Report/Block this person" button located on every Facebook profile. Click the button on the impostor profile, choose "Fake profile," and then add the URL of your daughter's real profile so that Facebook can identify the impostor. (The Facebook spokeswoman told me that you don't have to take this last step; if the person being impersonated doesn't have a Facebook profile, she doesn't have to join Facebook just to prove her true identity.)

Facebook says it has a team of people who look at these complaints; if they find your request to be valid, they will probably take down the offending profile. But what happens if, for some reason, the team doesn't believe your claim? What if you'd like the site to take more action than simply taking down the impostor—for instance, telling you her identity, so that you might report the person to her school?

That's where you hit a wall. As you found, Facebook does not generally respond to parents' inquiries; there's no phone number or e-mail helpline. "To be honest, we don't spend a lot of time getting back to people," Joe Sullivan, the site's chief security officer, told Bazelon. "Our priority is reviewing the content and removing it if we think it's inappropriate."

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I wish they'd change this policy. At the very least, the site should institute a feedback system for complaints—when you report a problem, Facebook should send you a message acknowledging the complaint, and then send you a follow-up when it concludes its investigation. If it does not take any action in response to your complaint, it should explain why. Given Facebook's size, this would undoubtedly be a big undertaking. But that's also why it should be doing something like this—Facebook is so big and so deeply embedded in young people's lives that it's hard not to imagine these problems getting much, much worse unless the site institutes new policies for dealing with abuse.

—Farhad

Dear Farhad,

How can I find out if spy software has been installed on my computer? I'm referring to the kind of software that logs keystrokes, monitors your Web history and other activity, and then reports it all to the person who installed it.

—Being Watched

Dear Being Watched,

I got lots of letters like yours in response to my column in June, when I advised a parent not to spy on his kids online. So how can you tell if somebody's snooping on you? Not very easily.

In some instances, anti-virus or spyware detection software—like Spybot Search & Destroy—might be able to detect programs that are keeping track of what you do on your computer. But if your pursuer is sophisticated and determined—especially if he or she has access to your computer or network—there's little you'd able to do to maintain your privacy. Some keyloggers, for instance, can be installed without any software at all—they're designed to look like standard USB cables and can be plugged in to intercept the cable running between your keyboard and your computer, where they can save everything you type. Similarly, many wireless routers can be set to log all network traffic and periodically e-mail reports to an attacker. If your foe has access to your router—which he would if he lived in your house—he could already be watching you. And software-based spyware-sleuthing apps wouldn't detect these efforts.

In other words, if you suspect you're being spied on, don't reach for a technical solution. Call a counselor, a lawyer, or the cops.

—Farhad

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