All your dates are belong to us


File this under creepy. Where to begin? We all know the world is getting smaller, and privacy is harder and harder to control, especially on the internet. It doesn’t help that every time Facebook makes some site change they seem to erase all your carefully setup controls and start sharing everything with everyone. And oftentimes, our conception of privacy is not about certain information being public, it is more about the ease of accessing that information. It would definitely have been possible in a previous age to gather a bunch of personal information about someone with a trip to the county courthouse, but who other than some rich asshole going to the expense of hiring a private detective would have bothered?

So I guess just file this under one more chip in the wall: With the recent release of ios6 and Mountain Lion, one can now easily link one’s Facebook account to one’s contacts, and pull all info from Facebook into these contacts. While at first glance this doesn’t seem like a big deal, I have discovered a few areas where it is a little disturbing. Case in point: people in my contacts for whom I only have phone numbers, many times without a last name. Why would I have such numbers littering my contacts? These might be people I met randomly at a party or professional function, or online and exchanged just the minimal amount of information necessary. They might have been to call later about a website or other work, or more likely to set up a coffee or dinner date. And my contacts list (and most people’s I would wager) are littered with these past partial contacts that we rarely if ever get around to cleaning out.

Here is where it gets interesting. I noticed after linking my contacts, that a bunch of extra information was pulled down for these contacts. Info that I never had before, based on nothing other than the phone number. So suddenly I had profile pics and last names and some other info for these people. I hadn’t realized this before, but according to one’s privacy settings (those again!) on Facebook  if your phone number is in there, you can actually be found right on the Facebook website, just by entering that number as a search. No name or email even required. So I spent part of the morning revisiting my past dating life, learning things about these people that was not shared with me previously, and in most cases deleting these entries from my contacts.

If I were you, I would go into your Facebook privacy settings right now (and perhaps once a week given the capriciousness of Facebook tweaking) and make sure what is shared is what you want to be shared. Or just let it be. We are clearly headed for a Borg-like future anyway.

The comfort of strangers


In the internet era, we are defining all kinds of new relationships with other people. These relationships are filtered through the online communities we subscribe to, and these  color the kinds of connections we have. Whether through a dating site, a Twitter subscription, following a newsgroup, or immersing oneself and exposing one’s life on a site like Facebook, these are fundamentally new ways of connecting with people and the rules and etiquette are still being worked out.

One has all kinds of friends on Facebook, and people will use the site differently depending on who they are. Some people will say yes to any friend request (often resulting in ridiculously long lists of “friends” in the thousands), some will keep their profile private to all but a few close and trusted friends that they know well in the “real” world. Most of us are somewhere in between, having a wider circle of friends (acquaintances, really) on our lists than those that we see all the time.

Some of these are people who you start to get a sense of from the way they interact with your profile.  It is interesting how you get to know people, get a better sense of them over time in the virtual world, when for whatever reasons you didn’t have the time or opportunity in the real one.

I have a couple of examples to share. The first is Judith, a woman I know in the real world and used to work with at the LA Weekly. Well, work “with” wasn’t exactly true. I was in IT and she was in Editorial and our paths would cross from time to time for work reasons, but we rarely had any meaningful contact. I always thought she was nice, but never really had a clear sense of who she was. This is normal, you can’t know everyone in an office of hundreds. We became friends on Facebook the same way so many people do; we had friends in common and shared email addresses in our address books. Over time, watching and responding to her postings and seeing her respond to mine, I have gotten a much better sense of who she is and what she believes, as I am sure she has of me and my beliefs. Although I don’t have day to day contact with her or know much about her quotidian habits, I know that I have found a rather like-minded person in many ways, and I appreciate her comments and discourse.

In a similar way, there is a guy named Aman who I friended only for the most vague of business contact reasons, suggested to me by mutual friends in India. We don’t have much direct contact at all, but politically, I notice we are somewhat similar and sometimes exchange comments and “likes” on our various postings. Over time, even never having met the guy and him being from a very different background from me, I feel a small kinship and trust. And this trust is built entirely in the online world.

These are new kinds of friendships, only made possible by our interconnectedness online. In a sense you could say that the internet has lowered our barriers to entry in the publishing world, and that many many more people can have a voice now (not just the owners of presses and TV stations), but that is only half the story. The internet has given us a way to talk back, directly, to these publishers and talkers. And we are all much more likely to be part of the conversation instead of passive watchers basking in the glow of our sets.

A status groundswell…


Normally I am not a big fan of joining groups on Facebook, but I was moved today to add the following status to my account after seeing it in a couple of other friends’ feeds:

Stephen Suess thinks that no one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day

And then it kept popping up everywhere I looked. A simple search of a part of the phrase turns up thousands upon thousands of them from all over the place. Seeing it over and over again in the form of a friend’s status makes it virtually impossible to ignore, and that is the point. And I have to admit that it feels good in the face of the sad antics of this summer to simply and calmly state what we believe to be a moral imperative, namely that universal health care should be a right, not a privilege. Although the sentiment and statement are important, I hope many of these people are also writing and speaking out, cajoling and calling congress, marching and taking action wherever they can to make this happen now. We probably won’t have another chance in a generation or more.