Friday, April 27, 2012

Read, Feed, Write, Repeat

"Well, here's your box.  Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full.  Pain and excitement are in it, and feeling good or bad and evil thoughts and good thoughts--the pleasure of design and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation.
And on top of these are all the gratitude and love I have for you.
And still the box is not full." 

Well, I for one think that every week should begin and end with a Read-A-Thon.  I've had a wonderful week, and I've decided I'm going to chalk it up to participating in the Read-A-Thon last weekend.  Why not?

First, I've started Steinbeck's East of Eden.  I do so love Steinbeck.  I always have.  The epigraph at the top of this post is actually his dedication of the novel to his friend, Pascal Covici.

I've also spent the past day or so planting, planting, planting, and I'm still nowhere near done.  It's too early for seeds and the garden, so I've been putting in the bulbs.  Nearly all of the 80 tulips I planted last fall came up.  This is good.  Now, I'm putting in dahlias, begonias, peonies, gladiolas and a couple more rosebushes.

C'mon, Spring.  Bring it.

I got feedback on my grant application, and although it wasn't funded--which isn't all that surprising since it was the first time I ever wrote up a grant proposal--the reaction to my ideas was generally very positive, so this has inspired me to resubmit it next fall.

It isn't always about getting the acceptance, it's about the process.

In the case of this grant, the process was quite unusual: I started the research that ultimately led to the proposal when I began dealing with a guy who kept trolling and commenting on my blog.

Usually, trolls are anonymous, but in this case, it was a guy I had briefly dated and then broke up with.   At some point, his then-girlfriend (long since his ex-) joined in.

It really turned into a pretty strange scene.  She obtained his email password while they were dating and continued to access his email account, even after they broke up. (Yes, I reported it to his email provider and gave them the evidence of her activity on his account.  Yes, he has since changed his password.) 

Ironically, if she had just stopped trolling my blog when she broke up with him, we would never have known what she had done.  I installed invisible tracking code and I caught her doing specific date-range searches on my blog postings.

Her search-terms always coincided with the dates of posts he had specifically mentioned in emails to me.  Because he had only ever mentioned the posts by date, not by name, and because the posts no longer existed when she was specifically searching for them, by date, weeks later, it began to be quite obvious what was happening.

I confess, I'd had my suspicions for quite a while.  Her activity on my blog always followed an email exchange I had with him.  I'd be out of touch with him for months, we'd be in touch once or twice, and immediately, she'd be on my blog again. 

She never simply read my posts, starting with the most recent entry.  Instead, she always went directly to specific posts whose dates always coincided exactly with the dates of the latest emails I had received from her ex-boyfriend.

When this continued happening even after they broke up, I knew it couldn't be a coincidence.

That's why I installed the tracking code and why I didn't say anything to her ex until I finally had proof of what she was doing.  Things she had said in an outraged voice mail she left for me last summer simply didn't add up. 

I permanently saved her voice mail message, actually, because it was so outrageous and full of veiled--and not so veiled--threats.  One of the advantages of being a state employee is that our voice mail system allows you to permanently store any message that's left at your office.  So that's what I did.

I've since found out that this kind of thing--hassling people on their blogs or via voice mail-- is something she does all the time, and that she's ended up in hot water on more than one occasion because of it.  She targets people she has an "issue" with, and then tries to intimidate with "private" messages or by attacking them anonymously online, in comments that can always be traced back to her. 

The upshot of all of this is, no one who knows her takes much of anything she says or does seriously anymore.  They either ignore her or pretend to agree with her, because they don't want her to start lashing out at them.  But no one trusts her.  It's pretty sad, actually.

Shortly before all of this unfolded, I sent her ex-boyfriend an email saying that I had her static IP address but that the code I installed couldn't track mobile devices, so if she accessed my blog's feed by cell phone I couldn't monitor it.

She immediately began using her cell phone to access my blog's feed.

I also told him that if she tried to comment anymore she'd get an error message.  After that, she stopped commenting on my posts.

So then, I knew.   What I didn't mention, of course, is that I didn't need to install code to track mobile devices: Blogger already registers page views by mobile devices and submits my feed's stats to Feedburner.

As part of my process of dealing with that (pretty unbelievable) turn of events, I began to do a lot of work on the internet and identity (social media, in particular) and that spun into work on the internet and privacy.  In addition to finding out a bit about the ever-emerging laws governing electronic communications, I also started learning HTML and Javascript and writing code.

One thing I have taken from all of this is that, if you're out there running amuck on the Web, you are in deep shit.  Nothing is private.  Nothing.   "Blocking" on Facebook or Twitter is a joke.  "Invisible" settings on YouTube Channels are a joke.

The only way to block people is to install invisible tracking software and write code.  You can only do this if you have access to your server or the ability to write and install the code on your own pages (as I could do here on my blog and on my other webpages).

You can't do this on Facebook, YouTube or Google Profiles.  If you block someone, and they still want to see what you're up to, they have several options.

If they're devious and lazy, they can just create a fake page.  This is actually against the community guidelines on most social media sites, and if you're caught, they'll slap you on the wrist for it.

If the fake page option doesn't appeal to them, they can simply connect with one of your friends.  I have pretty strict privacy settings, but even I allow "friends of friends" a certain degree of access.  If you "friend" someone you don't know, or if your "friends" "friend" someone they don't know, voila!  There they are, looking at your "private," "invisible" stuff.

On the web, "private" and "invisible" simply mean "available-to-nearly-everyone" and "still-visible-to-almost-everyone."

YouTube is perhaps the worst venue for anyone who cherishes their privacy.  Think about it: their slogan is "Broadcast Yourself."  If someone knows your username, you're toast.  YouTube won't allow you to change it, so you can't do much except close the account.

Webpages are cached: everything you comment on or "like," is always out there for the public to see.  Delete the comment if you like, it's still out there on a cached version of the page that can easily be Googled.  The same goes for all of your tweets on Twitter, particularly if you make them public.  You can switch your settings to "private" or "invisible," but whatever you've already put out there under a "public" setting, will always be out there.

And if the page or website or Twitter account you're commenting on or tweeting to is public, there is no way your comments or tweets will EVER be "private."  You're supposed to know that you're commenting in a public forum and in those instances, your privacy settings are moot.

If you know how to use the web developer tools in Firefox, you can actually query YouTube and get all the information you want about a user's activity, without actually having to go to their channel.

In my experience, if you block someone, all you're doing is ensuring that you can no longer see them.  It doesn't mean that they can't see you.

So, what should you do if you want to use social media?  Be open, but be careful.  Be mature.  Don't tweet or status update while under the influence of anything (including coffee).  Watch your mouth when you comment.  If someone makes you mad, it's best to just log off and walk away.

Why should you give a flying frigate?  Because if you lose your job or need a job these days and you have a volatile online presence, you won't find employment anytime soon.  Employers have the right to examine an applicant's "online presence"--they've been doing it for years. (I blogged about this last summer: see "Social Intelligence.")

Employers can search your email address, user names, whatever.  They'll find the fake profile pages, as well as the real ones.  Many companies hire consultants and specialists whose only job is to spend the day finding what you think is "private."

And if you think you'll just quiet down for a few months or behave yourself from now on, think again.  They're allowed to go back SEVEN YEARS.

It's governed by The Fair Credit Reporting Act.  All potential employers are required to do is to alert you of the fact that they are turning down your application on the basis of material they obtained as a result of scanning your online presence.  If they found something attributed to you that isn't yours, you can dispute it.  Otherwise, they are under no legal obligation to respect what you think is your "privacy."

It frustrates me, because I think people (foolishly) "trust" the Web, don't realize that there is absolutely no expectation of privacy in social media outlets and don't think before they post.  Either that, or they think, "I don't care!  It's my opinion!" but sooner or later, they care quite a bit.

One person I know began to care deeply when he awoke one morning to find all of his tires slashed.  Someone he had mouthed off at online had found his address and paid him a less-than-friendly visit in the night.

Facebook, Google, MySpace, YouTube: they don't care about "you."  It's a business.  Social media sites are businesses.  They want to make money.  That doesn't make them evil.  It just makes them businesses. 

In my experience, the people who are out there celebrating "free speech" and "privacy" are often the first ones to think it's fine to abuse the available opportunities to promote their own advantage or advance their own agenda (i.e., to make money).

Hence the recent change in my blog feed.  I apologize to any readers who were inconvenienced, but yes, the old feed no longer works.

When it comes to digital and electronic communications right now, it's best to assume that, if it's not illegal for you to have or to access it, it's "public."  End of story.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."