In the week that Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google warned of the danger that the Internet could strip current and future generations of their privacy I discovered, quite by chance, that someone was using Facebook to spy on me.
Facebook users will be familiar with the site suggesting people to become friends with. Normally, I ignore these messages, but last week Facebook suggested that I befriend someone called Tahia Jaman. She had no profile picture but what caught my eye was the fact that we had 29 friends in common. Intrigued that there could be someone I’d never heard of who knew so many of my friends I went to her profile. Bizarrely, the 29 people we had in common came from all corners of my life. It was only when I scrolled down and saw that Tahia Jaman had a total of 29 friends that the penny dropped.
Her profile had clearly been set up with the specific purpose of monitoring my activity. Friendship requests had been sent to all my friends, 29 of whom had accepted. As a friend of so many of my friends “Tahia Jaman” would be able to see comments that they posted on my “wall” or I posted on theirs. By so doing information about what I had been doing and events I was planning to attend could be easily collated. I reported the incident to Facebook and her profile was removed soon after but the incident shows how easy Facebook can be used for devious purposes.
Whilst this crude form of cyber-spying cannot replace more sophisticated, labour-intensive methods such as phone-tapping or surveillance, it is nonetheless effective, cheap and available to anyone. With the US launch of Facebook Places last week, monitoring the movements of Facebook users is set to become even easier. Facebook Places is a geo-location service that allows users to “check in” to places to alert their friends on Facebook where they are. It also allows others to ‘tag’ people that they see in these locations. With Google keeping search records from individual computers for nine months, Gmail monitoring users’ emails to provide relevant adverts, and Google street view containing pictures…