Steve Kurtz
~ it's a beautiful world ~

Facebook suggests an anonymous user: Me

June 2nd, 2009

Part of Facebook’s job is to suggest people you might know, so you can invite them to be your friend and grow your circle. Occasionally, I’ll run through the list of suggestions and see how I might know the suggested people. Usually, there’s some kind of connection: Went to the same school, worked in the same place, friend of a friend, same network, etc.

Today, Facebook presented me with a potential friend, Jon Doe (name changed to protect … ). I was quite surprised, as I recognized the name as one of my own aliases. Let me explain:

I created an alias (Jon Doe) on Facebook in order to determine what an anonymous user might glean from my children’s profiles. If I, as an anonymous user, could see information that my kids posted, there’s a problem and I want to know about it before anyone else. This anonymous profile has the minimum information required by Facebook to create a profile: A name (fake in this case) and a verifiable email address (of which I have several to spare). That’s all. This is an important fact. Facebook only knows my alias by a bogus name and an e-mail address (and perhaps some fake demographics set while testing access to my kid’s profiles).

So how, on my legitimate profile, did Facebook recommend Jon Doe as a possible Friend? As a check, I verified that the suggestion was indeed my Alias by comparing the Profile ID with my Alias’ Profile ID. They were the same. Jon has no friends. Is a member of no networks. Did not attend school. Yet Facebook made the connection none the less. I’m baffled.

If Facebook can correctly identify an anonymous profile as my possible friend, it makes a person wonder how much information is really being mined from our Internet activities.

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