Monday, August 3, 2009

Facebook saves any email address you give it, forever

(photo: cretinous hippy)

So there's this sneaky thing that Facebook does.

I'm not a real paranoid type of guy, but I noticed: if you ever give Facebook the email addresses of your friends, it remembers them forever.

I guess this isn't a big deal in the sense that, I don't think they're going to start spamming your email list or anything.

It's just a little weird that they do it and don't tell you about it. And I guess you could think of situations where Facebook gets hacked and the addresses get out. Or where if you have the email address of somebody considered "unsavory" for any reason _ criminal, ex-lover, whatever _ it could get out and embarrass you.

Furthermore, if you think Facebook has some brilliant software that analyses your relationships to come up with its "suggested friends", think again: it may just be that it's studying your email addresses.

Anyhow, below is the boring true* story of how I know this.
(Toban Black)

First of all, when I joined Facebook a few years back, hardly anybody I knew was on, so I let it check my various email accounts to find potential friends. Only a very few were on in those days, and as a result I ended up with a small subset of my real friends as Facebook friends _ call them the 'early adopters.'

Since then, with the growth of Facebook, most of my other friends have joined too _ but I never ran that email check again, just let things grow organically.

(matthew black)

I was a bit weirded out a few weeks ago when somebody whom I knew from a period of my life that was isolated from all others _ geographically and otherwise (a brief period living in France) _ friended me. She said I had been on her "suggested" list, but we didn't have any friends in common.

So I figured that either she was BS'ing me to avoid looking like a stalker or that maybe Facebook had awesome software. That it was able to figure out we had both been in Paris as Americans of the same age and about the same time; or that we had friends who are friends or something, and that we might therefore know each other.

But what put the issue beyond doubt was when somebody else popped up on my own suggested friends list a few days later: a German guy who I knew totally at random. Again I was amazed _ this is someone whom I met at a hotel in Rome in the year 1998, exchanged an email or two with, and never communicated with again. How could Facebook possibly have known that we knew each other?

(tom lee kelso)

I was more stunned when I friended him, and found out that he didn't have any other Facebook friends, not a single one. He was just testing Facebook out for the first time, signed up for an account and hadn't done anything else.

So there it is. His email address is buried in the vaults of my hotmail account, reviewed by Facebook a single time in 2006.

So much for Facebook analyzing relationships.

(some of the details of this story have been changed, because now I'm paranoid).