Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fake Profiles: To Create Theirs, Just Steal Yours.

I spent some time in the eighties performing some very geeky tasks, including designing an input process for a “top secret” research survey for my employer. It needed to be created internally because of the sensitive information gathered in the questionnaire.

Back then, electronic files weren’t as freely shared as they today and my final 30 page document, written in WordPerfect, was distributed to just a few folks on hard copy.

Fast forward a couple of years later; a colleague phoned me (we didn’t use email all that much either), and asked about “the documentation that Sharon wrote”. I was confused and said I’d walk over.

And there it was, right on the cover. The document title was the same, but the author wasn’t me. It was indeed Sharon, who left the company the year before. I told my colleague that I actually designed and documented the process and later that day showed him the original file in my computer. A bit of research revealed that Sharon had a secretary retype it word for word. And the secretary kept it secret, just as she was supposed to do.

Times have changed. Now, thanks to our public lives on the internet, we can easily rip off people we don’t even know and perhaps never get caught.

Case in point: The snapshot included here shows a “lady” named Cathy. Strangely enough, the introduction to her bio reads exactly the same as Frank’s on the right side.

I noticed Frank’s post where he stated stumbling upon this gal; he was amazed that he had 100% of his life in common with someone else! Some comments ensued, with the most reasonable theory being of course, that Cathy is a fake profile created from simply plucking public information from cyberspace. Frank contacted “her” to politely let her know what an honor it was to have his profile “borrowed” word for word.  Her description quickly changed; she emphasized her love of coffee, hot sauce and her sons.

Here’s the scary part. She displays characteristics making her appear legit.

In her bio, under other names, “Mapistrano*” is listed. And there IS a gal with that last name that works for Google that Cathy says is her sister. And while Cathy’s profile pic is blurry, there are other photos of her that are much crisper in quality with friends and a son or two. She seems to be a bit of whiner too, especially when the parking lot is plugged up.

But if she is a real person, why would she lift someone else’s bio? Lack of originality, in a rush, just happened to see it and identified with it?

This raises a few points. Do you read the bios of the folks that circle you or do you just automatically circle back? Perhaps this is why Cathy has followers. I enjoy reading them.

Granted a few may have slipped through the cracks, that certainly happens to me on Twitter as well. And if a bio is not available either because it hasn’t been written or isn’t made available to me, I click ignore. I don’t have a high tolerance for the lack of a profile pic either.

Fake profiles are fairly easy to spot on Twitter: Few followers, pretty or scantily clad woman in the photo, nonsense, obvious spam or nothing at all in the tweets, but it may be a harder on Google+ or Facebook. On Facebook, I’ve received friend requests from guys who pour out their undying admiration for me based on a photo. When I google them, nothing in their sparsely populated Facebook profiles seems to correspond with anything I find…IF I find anything. Had to fix that mess; nowadays, only friends and friends of friends will find me in a search on Facebook. No more “admirers” for me. Oh well.

Suggestion for G-plusers: DO peruse a profile before circling back and consider everything that they’ve revealed about themselves; how does it all add up? The introduction (bio) perhaps weighs heaviest out of all the different elements. What does the bio tell you about this person?

Note: Not everyone makes a bio public, including me (if you’re curious, ask me why), but there may be enough other information provided to evaluate whether or not to circle them back; perhaps some of their posts are viewable by you. Incidentally, my lack of public information hasn’t slowed people down from circling me. When I have a few moments, I read a few bios and follow back a few folks.

* name changed.