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Facebook, privacy, control, and creepiness | Friday, January 23rd, 2009

So, some anonymous dude (who is actually not quite as anonymous as he'd like to believe) left some comments on my nearly 2-year-old post about closing my Facebook account, then decided to try and prove a point about his views on privacy by cleverly looking up my cell number (which is public) and doing a Google search to find a photo of me (which is also public).

The point he ended up proving, of course, is that he's a slightly creepy person who calls up random people about an old blog post they wrote when he disagrees with them. Also, he knows how to perform the shit out of a Google search.

I was driving Mir - much more stalker-worthy material than I, if you ask me - to pick up some food for her dog, when my cell rings:

  • Is this Steven Mansour, from, about the facebook post?
  • Yup, who's this?
  • Just wanted to tell you that nothing is private, case in point I found your phone number, I'm not trying to stalk you or anything but you know how easy it is to find information about people on the internet.
  • Ok...
  • Ok.
  • Goodnight!
  • *click*

Followed by Mir and I looking at each other with a quizzical "WTF?".

So yes - it's true! You can find lots of information about people on the Internet, off and on Facebook. Especially if that information is, you know, supposed to be public in the first place. I don't hide my contact information from the world, and even if I did, a simple whois lookup on anyone (including Mr. "Anonymous") would be more than enough to get any more information about anyone else. That's why closed networks like Facebook are so insidious - people put more information on there than they would on an obviously public page such as this one, with the misconception that only their friends and family can access it. They - especially young people - are duped into jumping into bed with Facebook with the idea that they can retain control over who gets to access what.

They can't.

So what can we keep private? Lots. I'm pretty open - I make a point to use my real, full name in online games or on the handful social networks left that are genuinely useful to me; it makes it easier for me to keep track of and aggregate everything I'm doing. On others - ones where I prefer remaining private - I always use a pseudonym, encryption and TOR. There is data (music, videos, games) on my home PC that you'd probably be able to access without much difficulty if you really wanted to get at my Lionel Ritchie Paris Hilton Audioslave high-fidelity OGG files. Then there is other data and information that anyone would have a bitch of a time trying to find, decipher, crack and decrypt.

So, what's the point? Well, that problems with privacy control and things like identity theft have been around long before the Internet ever came to be, and will stick around long after the Internet has withered to dust copper flakes. That it's about corporate responsibility, education, and governance - not paranoia. That anyone with a phone book and fingers can find whoever they're looking for. And finally, whether you live down the street or in Florida, that you shouldn't look up my number and call me unless you've got something to say.

Or unless you're a blond-haired blue-eyed college cheerleader from the south. Then, you can just ask.