Facebook, privacy, control, and creepiness

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 stevenmansour.com, 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.



Friday, January 23rd, 2009
Miss. stalker-worthy '09's picture

'kay you like blondes? As if.

Also which is creepier, #1/ The dude who phone-stalked you (hi guy, nice to meet you). #2/ You for calling me a more stalker-worthy individual (For would-be-stalkers this in case of fact is untrue, I am super-fucking-mega-boring as Steven would tell you if he was being truthy. The only thing that makes me more stalkable is that I can't drive, so I go about 75 miles slower then Steven on average). Anyways, calling me stalker-bait = creepy.

Creepier = the fact that I think it's awesome! What me? stalker-fodder? (blushing).

Thank you for finally updating your blog.

Monday, January 26th, 2009
mir's picture

You know this made me think of this awesome pun/idea for a website.

It would be a kind of ironic comment on both privacy and the typical shallowness of social networks. Are you ready for it?

Stalk or Not (TM) : A dating site that is up-front about the creep factor.

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009
stevenmansour's picture

Oso, some of us aren't famous enough yet to be able to afford to screen all our calls.

Christine, it's not an absolute requirement. ;)

Mir, you should also think about adding the new Web 2.0 micro-blogging network, "Thumpper: up-to-the-minute updates about my cat's eating habits and my sex life.", to your business plan.

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009
mir's picture

Wait I don't understand What do my cat's eating habits (gluttonous) have to do with my sex life (parsimonious)?

Friday, January 30th, 2009
elizita's picture

Now that is hilarious! Creepy but still hilarious! I just had the most awesome out-of-control laugh in a longg while! And the comments... you guys are just too funny!

Mir: I volunteer the slogan translation... already got some ideas for 'creepy' Spanish and French versions lolll...

Thanks for the update my friends... be well and remember what mommy said... not getting into cars with strangers nor eating candies they offer.

Mir: no worries... Stevo might be faster at running but girls... we can be pretty damn fast at figuring out a sideway escape the dudes have not seen coming... what they might have in power... we superseed in brains and multitasking ;0)

I conquerer with your comment and agree with Stevo... you ARE stalkworthy... and yup... I can see how creepier the blushing part is! lolll


Saturday, January 31st, 2009
VBCTD's picture

WOW cat, it was creepy when my ex wife found my on Facebook. I almost had a heart attack when I saw the friend request. It took me a few days to accept it. Then when she started getting nosey I had to block her.

i know you hate...
Monday, April 20th, 2009
i know you hate anonymous posters sorry...just my mood today's picture

Hey- google sent me to your post about leaving facebook this morning. I've just tried to do the same thing. They deactivated it and yes, oh surprise, I had to burrow deep into the help pages to find a way to do it permanently, it asked for password/screengrab anti bot code, and wouldnt load...dozens of times...I changed my password to be sure it was right, had eye transplants to make sure I was seeing those two code words right, and emailed facebook (after taking three hours to find a contact for them) went back to site and the link to go permanently has disappeared. UH?

It's APRIL 2009 as I write this, I thought they'd worked this stuff out. JEEZ i hope i dont have to do what u did because deleting every single "blahblah has just adopted a virtual puppy" update by hand makes me want to eat my own head.

Thanks for your post and your crankiness. I was feeling post facebook serperation remorse but Im back to bitchy now.

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009
FIh's picture

I agree with you, it's really easy to find information about someone through these social networks, well you have deliberately put up your information on your own website and facebook which is okay because you're prepared for it but you're right that young people really don't know where to draw the line themselves and how to make sure they keep their stuff private. On facebook, many people share too many photos of their personal life to everyone, some even forget to set privacy settings, few of them have their information open to everyone. At the end of the day, you shouldn't ask Facebook to make sure of your privacy, yes it's their duty but 50% duty is yours to protect your information and sensitive data which should be shared exclusively with friends and family and there are other ways for that as well for e.g. Emails or through chat.

Monday, November 9th, 2009
S.D.m.'s picture

People are way too willing to put some of their information out there. But Facebook makes it really easy to hide things like photos, personal info, etc. Some people are just too trusting nowadays. It's like the "X-Files," trust no one.

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