There are the friends you know, friends you kind of know, friends who are really friends-of-friends, as well as random "friends" you don't really know at all. And then there are the friends you would trust with a key to your home, your secrets or your e-mail password.
Facebook is now making it easier to rely on that last group in a pinch by enhancing its security features, allowing users to designate which contacts can help them regain access to a hacked account or one with a forgotten password.
Using the Trusted Contacts feature in Security Settings, you can specify three to five people who will receive security codes if you report being locked out of your account. Like the nuclear launch codes on a submarine, three codes at once are required to regain access.
That's an upgrade to the Trusted Friends feature introduced in 2011 that allowed users to dedicate friends to help them only if they are already having trouble gaining access. Now, you can plan ahead by picking those trusted contacts in advance, and switching them as needs dictate, if say, one of those friends becomes less trustworthy, dies or quits Facebook.
Facebook notifies those friends that they have been selected. And, if you're the type who always sees an ulterior or additional motive, it's worth noting that this feature also tells Facebook who your closest friends are, while reducing the time you may spend locked out of your account.
"With trusted contacts, there's no need to worry about remembering the answer to your security question or filling out long Web forms to prove who you are," Facebook said in a post Thursday on its security blog. "You can recover your account with help from your friends."
Facebook recommends choosing "people you trust, like friends you'd give a spare key to your house," as well as "people you can reach without using Facebook, ideally over the phone or in person, since you'll need to contact them when you can't log in."
Facebook also has a special page for hacked account support, but the company doesn't offer advice in the event that someone hacks your account and, as a first order of business, changes or deletes your trusted contacts.
You may also be out of luck if you can't reach at least three of your designated Trusted Contacts for an extended period, so it pays to have the extra two on the bench.
Chester Wisniewski, a Canada-based analyst with global security firm Sophos, said Trusted Contacts "seems pretty sensible to me and a major improvement over the previous Trusted Friends method. Is it perfect? Of course not, but the reality is that it is significantly better than asking you for your pet's name."