Archive for April 2009

If you care about my answers, I want to know why

1 April 2009
Categories: Facebookish

Facebook continues to make me wonder about the erosion of personal privacy, and as much as I might want to tell some people various things about myself, many of the available opportunities to do so seem just wrong. Take, for example, this “40 random questions” meme that’s going around:

1. Do you like blue cheese dressing?
2. Do you ever smoke cigarettes?
3. Do you own a gun?
4. What’s your favorite drink at Starbucks or other specialty coffee shops?
5. What do you think of hot dogs?
6. Favorite Christmas song?
7. What do you prefer to drink in the morning?
8. Can you do push ups?
9. What’s your favorite piece of jewelry?
10. Favorite hobbies?
11. Do you have ADD?
12. What’s one trait that you hate about yourself?
13. Middle name?
14. Name 3 thoughts at this exact moment?
15. Name 3 drinks you regularly drink?
16. Current worry right now?
17. Current hates right now?
18. Current loves right now?
19. How did you ring in the New Year?
20. Like to travel?
21. Name 3 people that will complete this?
22. Do you own slippers?
23. What color shirt are you wearing?
24. Could you ever make it 39 days on the show Survivor?
25. Song you sing in the shower?
26. Favorite girls names?
27. Favorite boys names?
28. What’s in your pocket right now?
29. Last thing that made you laugh?
30. Worst injury you’ve ever had?
31. Do you love where you live?
32. How many t.v’s do you have in your house?
33. Who’s your loudest friend?
34. Does someone have a crush on you?
35. What’s your favorite candy?
36. What were u doing at 12 AM last night?
37. What were u doing at 7AM this morning?
38. What was the first thing you thought of when you woke up today?
39. What’s your favorite holiday?
40. What are your plans for tomorrow?

At first glance, it just seems like a bunch of dumb, innocuous questions. Yet mixed in amidst the usual crap (favorite candy, blue cheese dressing affinity, slippers ownership status) there are several that, taken together, could be construed to have ulterior motives.

For example, numbers 2, 11 and 30 might as well come from a life insurance company.

Number 13, asking for your middle name, sounds like a means to improve chances of hacking your password—if, like most people, you use easy-to-remember words for this. So too are 26 and 27, asking favorite girls’ and boys’ names, which for parents will almost always be the names of their own kids. (As an aside, I still don’t comprehend parents’ eager willingness to post their kids’ names and photos online for the whole world to see.)

But that’s not the worst of it. Numbers 3, 9, and 32 ask about your guns, jewelry, and televisions. What, are they casing the joint? Then 36 and 37 ask about your daily habits, while 20 assesses your tendency to travel. Finally, 40 sums it all up by asking about your plans for tomorrow. The prescient answer to that one might as well be, “I’ll take a day trip out of town, then return home to find all my valuables gone.”

Might as well just ask me my mother’s maiden name, and my bank card PIN number.

Consider also the LivingSocial app, now popping up all over Facebook with your chance to “pick your five!” of almost anything: favourite movies, books, beers, you name it. In fact, you can even make up the category and pick 5… say, “movies I don’t like all that much, except Tim Roth is in them, and he’s sort of cool.”

I guess. I’m guessing here. I haven’t used it myself. Because like all Facebook apps, before you can use LivingSocial you must allow it total access to your “profile information, photos, your friends’ info and other content that it requires to work.”

Why? What does LivingSocial—or, more to the point, the unknown and faceless people working behind the scenes at LivingSocial—need to know about me beyond what my choices of cinematic viewing tell them? Does their app really need to know everything about my Facebook profile to function? Does it really need access to a picture of me, underage and drunk off my ass in a cheap-eats dive, sporting a dopey grin and what can only be described as a late-’80s Dennis Miller mullet? (Does anyone? No. But so it goes.)

Heck, the same goes for, say, old wordworking tools flair. Yes, that’s a real gift (or should I say, “real” “gift”) you can give to someone else on Facebook… and they can accept it, if only they open their lives to the tools.

I swear, I seriously wonder what percentage of Facebook memes are really fronts for criminal identity theft organizations. If it’s even as low as 1 in 100, that’s still too many to accept the potential risk. And I have no means of judging whether a particular app or meme is benign or nefarious.

I like Facebook, and really enjoy the opportunity to catch up with friends old and new, many of whom have wandered across the entire face of this planet. It’s great. But don’t be disappointed in me or take it personally when I ignore, without exception, every invitation to join your mafia, every gift of random flair, and every chance to choose five anythings of my own. It’s not you I’m worried about, it’s the invisible middleman.