BBC: Old Scams Made New

This is a column for a BBC World Service piece. It’s not Reuters content. 

Of all the scams you’d have thought the old ‘I’m a general’s widow and am sitting on a whole pile of cash I want to share with you” one would have gone away by now. But it hasn’t. The scammers are now recruiting church organists. 

Take, for example, LinkedIn, the business networking service. Think Facebook but for suits. People use to flaunt their resume only in the hope of winning contracts, promotions, job offers and to share trade gossip with others. Companies use it to recruit, promote themselves etc. And so do scammers. 

They make a fake profile, add a fake photo, and then start inviting potential victims to connect to them. Once connected, they approach marks with the usual ‘I’ve got lots of money tied up in a bank and i want to share it with you if you’d only send a bit my way to help me grease some bankers’ palms.’ They can also now mine your address book and connect to your contacts and do the same to them. 

I was recently approached, for example, by a lady called Alisha, who claimed to work at a dental clinic (the giveaway there: she called it a detal clinic),by Qatari billionaire Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani (email address sheikfaisalbinalthani at gmail.com) and before her recent troubles by the now deposed prime minister of Thailand — Yingluck Shinawatra, not the other one — who could be reached at angeleena rosa 1967 at yahoo.com

Why do I know these folk are not for real? Well, one red flag is a limited number of connections: 67 in Alisha’s case, 127 in the Sheikh’s and 56 in Ms Yingluck’s. But each was able to reach me because despite the relatively measly number of people they’d persuade to accept their invitation to connect were contacts of mine.

I knew it was getting serious when I was approached by someone claiming to be a manager at Standard Chartered. Let’s call him Mr Christopher to save some blushes. Mr. Christopher claims to have 10 years’ experience in banking and finance management — and, most impressively, more than 500 connections. Among them a colleague, a CEO at a local energy group and the finance director of an Indonesian company. He even has a Facebook page. 

These scammers are putting in the hours. 

 But even then, these scams aren’t really that hard to spot.

Usually a glance at the profile is enough. A guy called Nigel Rozzell, for example, approached me, ostensibly from NatWest Bank. (It turns out there really is a Nigel Rozzell who works for Nat West Bank, but I’m pretty sure his email address isn’t Natwest Nigel at accountant.com, which is what this profile had.) 

And if I still wasn’t sure, I could search google for images that look like his mug shot — it’s actually easier than it sounds. And sure thing, the headshot of fake Nigel Rozzell belongs to an engineer who works on rail projects in Qatar.

And our bank manager friend Mr Christopher, with the 500+ connections and the Facebook page? After I recklessly accepted his LinkedIn invitation he offered me half of 9,649,400 pounds he said he was about to get his hands on. My confidence in him deflated when I discovered via Google that his mug shot belonged to that of the organist at a church near Bristol, who was none too pleased when I told him his visage being used as part of a scam. 

Now, LinkedIn to their credit have taken down all these profiles. And they defend their failure to stop these profiles ever appearing or gathering steam by saying that it’s basically up to users to be careful who they link to and to report anomalies. They also say they see no spike in these kinds of scams. 

But the truth is that scammers like networks and networks don’t police themselves. It took me anything between 10 seconds and two minutes to spot these scams, but I’m a nerd. That vetting process that could easily be automated. LinkedIn should, in my view, try doing that. I’ll miss rubbing shoulders with deposed prime ministers, billionaire sheiks and church organists, but I’ll suffer for the greater good of keeping scammers off my buddy list. 

[Update: Got another scam this morning, from a Douglas Mattes, who once again had 500+ connections and a quite well populated profile. And whom actually I thought might be legit as I hadn’t looked at the image which belongs to one Shaun Goeldner. I’m frankly unclear how these profiles work — are they legitimate accounts hacked or built from scratch?] 

[Update: Is this all part of some Iranian spying scam? ]

Using LinkedIn to Research Spies Like Us

image

Several of the 11 alleged Russian spies leave interesting imprints on LinkedIn, suggesting rewarding pickings for journalists.

Donald Heathfield, for example, had 74 connections.

His specialities sound like they could equally applied to espionage:

Comprehensive management of Risks and Uncertainties, Anticipatory Leadership, Building of Future Scenarios, Development and Execution of Future Strategies, Capture of Strategic Opportunities, Global Account Management

Amusing to hear the recommendations:

“Refreshing to work with him as he puts complexe initiatives together that always fits with the end goal that was laid out as our objective.” November 3, 2008

Gerard Bridi, President, Accor Services WiredCommute
was with another company when working with Don at Future Map

“Working with Don is very enjoyable. He has a pleasant style, whilst always acting professionally. Very results and solutions focused. He does not get flustered when problems occur, patiently facilitating teams to craft a way through to their end goal.” November 2, 2008

Top qualities: Great Results, Personable, Expert

image

Tracey Foley (Ann Foley), Heathfield’s wife, doesn’t have so many connections (20) but she’s a member of many groups—including four French related one and a Singapore group one. We know that Heathfield had connections in Singapore and Jakarta. Something to explore there?

Michael Zottoli appears to have a LinkedIn account, but only 10 connections and hasn’t updated it since his move from Seattle to Virginia. Patricia Mills, his wife, doesn’t seem to have a LinkedIn account.

Mikhail Semenko had 124 connections, a twitter account (10 followers, 3 tweets) and a blog about China (one post talks about the need for greater Russia China cooperation).

Richard/Cynthia Murphy NJ. Cynthia has 98 connections on LinkedIn and is a member of three groups. Christopher Metsos has no LinkedIn page that I could find.

Anna Chapman’s public profile seems to have been removed. But her main profile is still active, (you can also find it here.) and indeed, her company, PropertyFinder Ltd, has a similar name to Ann Foley’s public LinkedIn profile page: homefinder. A link there, maybe?

Her twitter feed stops abruptly on June 26 at 4.46 am (and yet wasn’t arrested until June 28. I guess she took the weekend off.) She was following a lot more people than were following her (687 vs 277, but she was really only just getting going: After tweeting first on March 13, she didn’t do much until June 16, after which she was tweeting every few hours. Could something have prompted her into more frequent updates?)

She also has a number of recommendations, from Said Abdullaev, a VP of Moscow-based Fortis Investments, who offered this:

“Anna’s entrepreneurial flair does not cease to amaze me, she sees opportunities in places were most would not think to look, and she makes them work.” November 24, 2009

Skype’s New Dawn?

We talk about Facebook, twitter, MySpace and Friendster as the big social networks but we keep forgetting one that is far bigger than that: Skype. This from a Bloomberg piece on Skype’s vacillating fortunes:

Skype has soared in popularity since it started in 2003 and has about 548 million users worldwide—more than Facebook, MySpace and Twitter combined.

Pretty much everyone I know is on Skype—more so than Facebook—and their investment in it is greater: They had to figure out how to install software, set up a microphone, a webcam, create an account, and maybe even buy credit. More importantly, they can actually estimate its value to them, by counting the money it’s saved them, if they want.

We all know about eBay’s missteps with Skype over the past few years and the software could definitely do with a total overhaul. But now there are new faces involved—including Marc Andreessen, who knows a thing or two—I foresee huge opportunities ahead.

One is a route they’re clearly going to take: the enterprise. That makes sense, but it also means damping down Skype’s huge social reputation, since companies will tend to think of it as at best a frivolous time waster for its employees, at worst a security threat.

Still, it would make lots of sense to go that route, possibly creating a separate sub brand of Skype that built a wall between the existing network of users and the enterprise one.

But I think there’s a much bigger opportunity out there, one that was talked up back in 2005 but never left the ground. That was leveraging the free connectivity to allow an eco system of services to develop atop of it.

Consulting, translation, education, all that kind of thing.

This never really took off, but I think that may have had more to do with its execution, and the fact that the world wasn’t quite ready. Most people signed up to Skype for the free calls. They weren’t really interested in more than that.

And yet since then Facebook and other social networks have. (Taken off, I mean.) Doing, actually, pretty much the same thing. Setting up an account, adding your buddies to it, and then communicating.

But the potential of that network was never exploited. A few memory-hogging applications and a few desultory ads have been pretty much it.

Maybe now Skype can make the most of this. One is the eco system of services I mentioned, but there are also location-based opportunities, mobile opportunities, video opportunities.

If Skype dovetailed with Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn it could position itself at the heart of social media. After all, it’s probably the only application that most Internet users have installed, loaded and active on their computer. Unlike Facebook et al, Skype is there, right in the moment. It’s the ultimate presence app.

Indeed, it’s much more like an instant Rolodex (remember those?) than all the other networking services we use. If I want to contact someone the first place I check is Skype—if they’re online, what’s the point of contacting them any other way?

In other words, Skype offers a granularity that other social networking tools don’t: Not only is it comfortable with one to all (the status update message), it’s also comfortable with the one to several (add people to a chat or call), it’s also great at instantly connecting one on one. You can even reach people offline via it, if they have call forwarding enable, or you have their SMS details stored.

No other social network offers that.

Of course, Skype has some ways to go to do this. The interface needs a serious rethink: It looks so 2000s.

It needs to add—or reintroduce—lots of features, like individual invisibility (being invisible to some people and not others), to encourage those who either don’t have it running or have themselves permanently invisible, to keep it there in their system tray.

It needs to lower some of its walls to allow interoperability with other chat clients, like Google Talk, and with services like Facebook and LinkedIn. Indeed it should throw open all its doors, so I can look up my friends on the Skype app and communicate with them using any or all of those services. Skype is the app is the network.

Then we might be back to those heady days of 2004-2005 when Skype looked like it was not just going to be the end of ruinous IDD phone monopolies, but that it might herald a new era of networking.

The Hazards of Recommending

image

Think twice before you agree to recommend someone on LinkedIn. They may be a logic bomber.

You may have already read about the fired Fannie Mae sysadmin who allegedly placed a virus in the mortgage giant’s software. The virus was a bad one: it

was set to execute at 9 a.m. Jan. 31, first disabling Fannie Mae’s computer monitoring system and then cutting all access to the company’s 4,000 servers, Nye wrote. Anyone trying to log in would receive a message saying “Server Graveyard.”

From there, the virus would wipe out all Fannie Mae data, replacing it with zeros, Nye wrote. Finally, the virus would shut down the servers.

Luckily the virus was found and removed. But what has yet to be removed is the suspect’s LinkedIn page which shows that since he was fired he has been working at Bank of America, something I’ve not seen mentioned in news covering the alleged incident.

(Apparently this piece mentions this fact but the information has since been removed. This raises other interesting points: What way is there for a company to police claims by people on networks like LinkedIn that they indeed worked at that company? Why was this information removed from the story or comments?)

image

What must also be a bit awkward is that the suspect, Rajendrasinh Makwana, has a recommendation on his LinkedIn profile from a project manager at AT&T, who says that

he was much more knowledgable at the subject matter than I was. He demonstrated leadership at times of crisis. He helped me learn the ropes. I would love to work with Raj again.

The recommendation is a mutual one; the person in question gets a recommendation from Makwana as well. But what adds to the awkwardness is that the recommendation was posted on October 25, 2008, which was, according to an affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Jessica Nye, the day after Makwana’s last day of work—which was when he allegedly planted the virus:

“On October 24, 2008, at 2:53 pm, a successful SSH (secure shell) login from IP address 172.17.38.29, with user ID s9urbm, assigned to Makwana, gained root access to dsysadmin01, the development server. … IP address 172.17.38.29 was last assigned to the computer named rs12h-Lap22, which was [a Fannie Mae] laptop assigned to Makwana. … The laptop and Unix workstation where Makwana was able to gain root access and create the malicious script were located in his cubicle.”

Ouch. If the FBI is right, the suspect was buffing his CV, seeking recommendations from former colleagues right after planting a script that could have deleted all of Fannie Mae’s data.

Lesson: Think hard before you recommend someone on LinkedIn. How well do you know this person?

Think Hard Before You Get Linked In

I’ve been trying to remove a contact on LinkedIn who proudly claims to be one of the best linked people on the planet. Why that’s a good thing I’m not sure, but I noticed I was getting LinkedIn spam—spam to my own email address, but coming via LinkedIn–from this person, so I tried to remove him

Turns out that it wasn’t enough. This morning I got an email from another guy claiming to be the best connected person on the planet (“(he is one of the most linked people in the world”) who said I had been referred to him by none other than the LinkedIn spammer guy I thought I’d removed eight months ago. He wrote:

If so, then please accept my connection request. Since I presently have over 8,900 first tier connections, I cannot send an invitation to you because I have exceeded my limit. Therefore, to connect with me and to benefit from the millions of total connections that I have, click here: [LINK DELETED] and enter my email address [EMAIL DELETED].

So what gives? How come someone I removed from my LinkedIn network is able to refer me to someone else who has somehow been able to get my email address despite not being my buddy, nor connected to a buddy of mine? I’m asking LinkedIn about this, but I also wanted to know what happened to the original spammer I’d deleted. Was he still in my system?

Turns out he is.

Removing a connection in LinkedIn is not, it turns out, the same as removing a contact. It seems to work like this (and I might be wrong, because the explanations on LinkedIn are contradictory.)

The FAQ says you remove a connection via the Remove Connections link:

image

which takes you to a separate list:

image

What you’ll notice about this list is that, unlike your Connections list, it’s not alphabetical. Well it is, in that you can jump straight to a letter (M, say) but within that list the contacts are not in sub-alphabetical order. A cynic would say this is an extra deterrent to connection-pruning, but I’m not a cynic so I won’t say that.

But you might notice this:

image

Huh? Good that the connection won’t be notified that they’ve fallen off your Christmas card list, but how come they’ll still be on my list of contacts? And  how does it square with this other note, on the same page, that says:

Note that once this action is completed this individual will not be able to be added back as a connection.

So the person you’ve gone to all this trouble to remove will still be in your contact list—no way that I can see of removing them from there—but you can’t change your mind and then re-add them back as connection. You can, however, re-invite them, and, indeed, they will remain in your contact list as a constant reminder.

(Just out of interest, how do you re-invite someone to be a connection who didn’t know you’d banished them before? How do you explain that, exactly? “Sorry, I hated you before, but now I don’t hate you anymore?” Could be a good lyric in there.)

Confused? So am I? But here’s the kicker: Does the fact that he’s still in my contacts, and that he’s out there, apparently, recommending me to other LinkedIn spammers, mean I’m still in the LinkedIn spammer’s list of connections?

I suspect it does, because he’s still in my list of connections (but not in my Remove Connections list, if you’re still with me) and he’s still listed as 1st in my list of connections—meaning we still have a connection.

In other words, unless this is a glitch, it is impossible to remove a connection from LinkedIn once you’ve established one.

I’m going to ask LinkedIn to shed light on this. But if it’s true, it should give you pause for thought before you accept a connection via the otherwise useful service. It’s one thing to build one’s network. It’s another to find you have no control over that network—and who in that network might use the information you put there—once it’s built.

Automating Your Relationships

image

It’s not for me, but there’s a certain unerring logic about SocialMinder: instead of leaving your social and business relationships to be tended by natural forces, why not automate them?

SocialMinder offers just that, by mining your LinkedIn and Gmail address books and notifying you when you last contacted that person. (This is called monitoring the health of your relationships.) It not only does that; it will dig out some news item related to the person in question—or from the organisation they work for, and prepare an email for you. Something like this:

image

which reads:

Hi Wicak;

I was thinking about  you the other day, and then I saw this and had to ask how/if this impacts you..

ACES Int'l Certification Programs: Certified Utility Locator …
Here is the link:
http://www.acesinternational.org/

Hope that you all are well…

Talk with you soon…

Needless to say, should I send this to Wicak he would be highly surprised as that’s not the way I talk to him (not enough insults and expletives), and the fact I’m pointing out his organisation’s own website to him might give him pause to wonder whether continuing our friendship is a good idea.

Some early thoughts:

This kind of thing occupies an odd space in the social/business networking pantheon. On the one hand, we all know there’s a lot of dodginess about networking. It’s all about back-scratching, and what-can-you-do-for-me about it all. But it still needs to be civil, and at least a pretence maintained that there’s more to it than naked mutual exploitation (actually, put like that it sounds quite fun.)

So how to monitor and nurture those relationships without putting in the effort that real relationships require? Hence SocialMinder (I suspect a better name would be SocialMiner without the ‘d’.) It’s pretty well executed, of course, and perhaps there are instances where this kind of approach might be useful.

But all SocialMinder really does is to remind you that relationships aren’t about quantity, they’re about quality. Even business ones.

Everyone on LinkedIn knows—I assume—that they’re on there because they want to make use of other people’s networks. These networks, actually, don’t really exist. They’re just a bunch of names, loosely tied, as Mr Weinberger might put it. It’s not that LinkedIn is not useful, but it’s not because we’re constantly sending our LInkedIn buddies emails about their company’s activities. It’s because we can use those loose connections to hear about jobs, or put out requests, knowing that it’s going to people who accept such emails as part of the networking process. Call it a kind of ‘business spam opting in’.

So, sadly, I don’t think SocialMinder will catch on. Indeed, you might argue it marks the apogee of the social networking trend. If we need to rely on software to direct our relationships then, I suspect, we’ve either entered another dimension from which there’s no turning back, or we’ll realise the limits of the medium and start to focus on the people behind the nodes.

Social Networks Aren’t Social

Social networks are not really social—they’re informational. While they may appear to be social, and perhaps we flock to them and participate in them because we feel a need to socially connect, the real currency is information. Whereas we might go to a bar, a cocktail party or a dinner and spend 90% of our time talking about things that are not important to us, just to maintain and keep alive that social ‘space’, and 10% exchanging really usable and useful information, online the percentages are probably inverted.

Looking at my Facebook inbox, the last 10 exchanges have been about arranging to meet a professional acquaintance who is about to move to Indonesia, chatting with a casual acquaintance about why they’re quitting their job, getting information from a professional acquaintance about her deleted blog, a request to appear on a radio show from a close friend, offering advice to a professional acquaintance about furthering their career, requesting help from a professional acquaintance about interviewing her boss, and then a handful of inconsequential exchanges with friends and semi-friends. These exchanges are data-rich, in the words of Edward Tufte, whereas the average real-world conversation is much less so.

(I’m not talking about enjoyability here, and this is not to say that social interaction isn’t important. They’re of course more fun—it’s really hard to get drunk with someone on Facebook—and In many ways the data that comes out is more useful, because it comes after vital ‘social greasing’—wine, song, ambience, comfort, shared intimacies—that lubricate the lips. I’m just talking ratios.)

This all sprung to mind reading some great notes that Ethan Zuckerman is taking at Picnic08, who quotes from a panel discussion that includes Linda Stone, Jyri Engeström, Matt Jones, Addy Feuerstein and Philip Rosedale. Jones, the founder (should that be foundr?) of Dopplr, reckons we should let go of the idea of friendship in many social tools and just focus on the exchange of information:

He quotes Merlin Mann, who describes the new feature on FriendFeed which allows you to pretend to follow a friend so you won’t create an awkward social situation, “This is a major breakthrough in the make-believe friendship space.” There are many rich ways we can build social relationships online, but we’d do better to focus on the information we already exchange, the “wear we leave on social objects”, rather than forcing make-believe friendship.

I reckon he’s right on the money there. Many of us try to create a distinction between Facebook friends and LinkedIn friends, but it’s getting harder and harder. I keep Facebook only for those people I’ve met, but increasingly, as my tight network of friends new and old thins out the people I’m adding are loose acquaintances.

The relationship we have is based on trust—after all we knew each other, once—but the usefulness trumps the warm fuzziness. We hope to make use of our renewed acquaintance, and. perhaps, we’re not so shy about exploiting it.

This was what I thought would happen on LinkedIn.  My policy there was to add pretty much anyone who wasn’t trying to sell me life insurance, a house or a bank. But at least for me it hasn’t really worked. Being LinkedIn buddies doesn’t really seem to be enough to create a connection through which business can flow. (This despite, theoretically, everyone wanting to know a journalist if only so they can pimp their product.)

The bottom line? I don’t think make-believe friendship works, and I think social networks will fail if they focus on that. It’s not about finding new friends. It’s about facilitating the exchange of information through existing ones: sharing websites, job offers, invitations, photos, whatever will help or entertain your friends and acquaintances.

Of course, friendships are strengthened through these exchanges, but it’s not the ‘friending’ that is doing it, it’s the information.

…My heart’s in Accra » Picnic08 – The future of social networks

PS Just spotted this from David Weinberger: “But sites like Facebook aren’t about information. They’re about self, others, and the connections among them.” Sounds like we’re not in agreement, but I’d say we are: information, in this case, is talking about the personal data one puts up on these sites. I’m talking about the information that is exchanged on these sites: the trading that takes place, the process. The difference is between the photos a hairdresser puts in his window display and what actually goes on inside the barber.

Why Social Network Sites May Fail

Look at a social networking site lie Yaari and you can see where the social networking phenomenon may fail, simply by abusing the trust of its users.

Sites like LinkedIn, Plaxo etc rely on expanding quickly by offering a useful service: trawling your address book to find friends and contacts who use the same service. We’ve gotten used to this, and it’s a great way to build a network quickly if you sign up for a new service.

But any service that uses this needs to stress privacy, and put control in the hands of users. Plaxo learned this a few years back. Spam a user’s contact list without them realising and you invite a firestorm of opprobrium on your head.

But surprisingly some services still do it. And in so doing they risk alienating users from what makes Web 2.0 tick: the easy meshing of networks—your address book, your Facebook buddies, your LinkedIn network—to make online useful.

Take Yaari, a network built by two Stanford grads which has for the past two years abused the basic tenets of privacy in an effort to build scale.

What happens is this.

You’ll receive an email from a contact:

 image

It’s an invitation from a “friend” which

  • gives you no way to check out the site without signing up. The only two links (apart from an abuse reporting email address at the bottom) take you to the signup page.
  • neither link allows you to check out your “friend”  and his details before you sign up.

If you do go to the sign up page you’ll be asked to give your name and email address:

image

Below the email address is the reassuring message:

Your email is private and will stay that way.

But scroll down to below the create my account button and you’ll see this:

By registering for Yaari and agreeing to the Terms of Use, you authorize Yaari to send an email notification to all the contacts listed in the address book of the email address you provide during registration. The email will notify your friends that you have registered for Yaari and will encourage them to register for the site. Yaari will never store your email password or login to your email account without your consent. If you do not want Yaari to send an email notification to your email contacts, do not register for Yaari.

In short, by signing up for Yaari you’ve committed yourself, and all the people in your address book, to receiving spam from Yaari that appears to come from your email address. (Here’s the bit from the terms: “Invitation emails will be sent on member’s behalf, with the ‘from’ address set as member’s email address.”)

You should also expect to receive further spam from Yaari, according to the terms:

MEMBERS CONSENT TO RECEIVE COMMERCIAL E-MAIL MESSAGES FROM YAARI, AND ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT THEIR EMAIL ADDRESSES AND OTHER PERSONAL INFORMATION MAY BE USED BY YAARI FOR THE PURPOSE OF INITIATING COMMERCIAL E-MAIL MESSAGES.

In other words, anyone signing up for Yaari is commiting both themselves and everyone else in their address book to receiving at least one item of spam from the company. Users complain that Yaari doesn’t stop at one email; it bombards address books with follow-up emails continually.

Needless to say, all this is pretty appalling. But what’s more surprising is that Yaari has been doing this for a while. I’ve trawled complaints from as far back as 2006. This despite the company being U.S.-based. I’m surprised the FTC hasn’t taken an interest.

So who’s behind the site? This article lists two U.S.-born Indians, Prerna Gupta and Parag Chordia, and quotes Gupta as saying, back in 2006, that to preserve the integrity of the network access is restricted to the right kind of Indian youth. I’m not young, I’m not Indian, and I’m probably not the right kind, so clearly that goal has been abandoned.

Here are some more details of the two founders.

Gupta, who is 26, is an economics major who graduated in 2005, was working for a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley called Summit Partners until 2005. Her facebook profile is here; her LinkedIn profile is here. According to this website she once won the Ms Asia Oklahoma pageant (her hometown is listed as Shawnee in Oklahoma, although she lives in Atlanta.

Chordia, chief technology officer at Yaari, has a PhD in computer music, and is currently assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, according to his LinkedIn profile. His facebook profile is here.

There’s a video of them here. An interview with Gupta last year indicates that they’re going hell for leather for size:

We are focused on growing our user base and becoming India’s largest social networking site within the next two years. Our goal for the next year is to become one of India’s Top 10 Internet destinations.

What’s interesting is that nearly every site that mentions Yaari and allows comments contains sometimes angry complaints from users. In that sense Web 2.0 is very effective in getting the word out. Unfortunately if Yaari and its founders continue to commit such egregious abuses of privacy, we can’t be sure many people will trust such websites long enough for the power of networking sites to be properly realised.

(I’ve sought comment from Gupta, which I’ll include in this post when received.)

My First LinkedIn Spam

 image

Got my first LinkedIn spam today:

Hi Jeremy,

[name deleted], here… we are linked on LinkedIn

I know you’re interested in earning an in~come on the internet. I also know you probably wouldn’t mind if ‘understanding it’ was made easier for you.

Well, I’ve been notified about a new F.REE report by internet marketers, [etc ad nauseam]

I logged in, and it’s true: We are linked on LinkedIn. Or were; I’ve deleted him as quickly as I could. Or at least I tried to: There’s no easy way to do it. (I found the answer, not in LinkedIn’s answers or help page, but on Ask Dave Taylor, who points out that “with so many different social network sites cropping up, it’s pretty amazing to me how few actually let you edit the connections you establish.”

image

My policy with LinkedIn has been to add more or less anyone who asks to be linked. This is highly irresponsible of me, of course, but I figured it wasn’t going to do any damage since I don’t really use the tool. Now, after this bit of spam, I’m not so sure. If people see I’m connected to a spammer, maybe that could do me some damage. As I’ve never received a job offer, or even an indecent proposal, via LinkedIn I’m frankly not quite sure what it’s for. But if it’s a way for people to spam me then I’m all for tightening the guest list a bit.

So I’m going to start weeding out my LinkedIn contact list, which currently stands at about three gazillion people, only four of whom I’ve actually met.

This week’s column – What Price Privacy?

This week’s Loose Wire column is about Gmail, Plaxo and privacy:

PRIVACY IS ONE OF those things you either obsess over, or don’t see what all the fuss is about. You’re either someone who gets indignant when a shop assistant asks you for your home address at the checkout, or you’re not. You either hate the idea that your credit card is a mine of information about your shopping habits, or you couldn’t care less.

This debate is timeless, but the Internet and in particular two recent new phenomena have brought it into focus. The first is a crop of on-line networking services that range from automatically updating your contacts’ details, such as Plaxo Inc.’s address-book software to networking Web sites like Friendster and LinkedIn, which allow you to hook up with other users with similar tastes or business interests on-line. The other phenomenon is something called Gmail, the soon-to-be-launched e-mail service from the soon-to-be-listed search-engine company Google.

Full text at the Far Eastern Economic Review (subscription required, trial available) or at WSJ.com (subscription required). Old columns at feer.com here.