Yesterday, I was reading Newsweek and stumbled upon an article about a website called Spokeo. Basically, you can enter your friends’ email addresses, websites or a social networking site, and Spokeo will keep track of what your friends are up to with a running commentary on your home page. The home page is similar to the one on Facebook (Bob added new photos. Jane changed her Amazon wish list. Sally posted a new blog on MySpace.) Of course I had to go to Spokeo to see what my friends were up to.
I put in one of my many email addresses and let it search my friends. The list grew and next to each name was a small icon (Flickr, Google smiley face, MySpace, Amazon or a plus sign which dropped down all of the icons for my computer addicted friends – mine had a plus sign). I started clicking away. For most people, it said “No content.” The smart friends had restricted their MySpace page so I couldn’t see those (and one friend didn't match the content pulled up for her). But there was still stuff to see (most of it old). I saw photos of a friend I’ve lost touch with on her trip to Ireland and another to Maui. I saw videos of another friend’s kid.
The weirdest thing was seeing people’s Amazon Wish Lists. One of my cousins wants a book called “Conversations with God.” Another, who is in med school, appropriately wants books about being a doctor. Another friend with kids had bath toys, a stroller and a how to raise boys book on her list. I found my wish list that I created in 2002 (the lists state when the person added the item to their wish list, and most of them were added in 2006 or earlier) so my parents would buy me the fashion design books I wanted (they never did – thank god so I don’t have to feel guilty for not using them). I had completely forgotten about the list (apparently I’m not alone), but it tells something about me just like my bookshelves at home do. And at home, there are some books I don’t put on the shelves – just like I didn’t plan on anyone being able to see my wish list (innocuous as it is). I changed the privacy setting to PRIVATE so now only I know how boring I am.
I truly felt like a voyeur, however, when I saw an acquaintance that had “My Pregnancy Journal” on her wish list. Forget the Flickr photos. You know those are public when you put them up. Of course people might look at your pictures, but a pregnancy journal on a wish list? For a brief moment, I thought, “How exciting! She and her boyfriend are having a baby!” Then, I noticed she put it on the list in 2003. Did she miscarry? Was it for a friend? What happened and why did she want that book? (She doesn’t have any kids that I know of.) And what business is it of mine to wonder any of those things?
Anyone who uses a computer regularly knows that people can see what we are doing. (Ironically, Spokeo did not find this blog.) When I write, I am careful not to let loose if I am upset with a friend, or even mention a friend’s name (see pregnancy book above) because although I’ve decided to air my laundry, none of them have agreed to let me air theirs. And something like a wish list? I never would have thought that would turn up in a search. After plugging myself into Spokeo, nothing very interesting came up other than my Amazon wish list, my maternity website-based MySpace page (an acquaintance will wonder if that is my belly in the photo. It’s not), and my empty Flickr account. MySpace blogs show up, but Typepad and Blogspot ones don’t. I found rants from my friend Dan, who stopped blogging because his neighbors read one of his rants about them. (Maybe they use Spokeo?) (He said it’s still a little uncomfortable in the ‘hood.)
So internet, be careful what you post and expose of yourself in the cyber world. Copyright your photos on Flickr. Be careful what you write or wish for. And just to be safe(or curious), check to see what Spokeo pulls up on you.