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Tue, Mar. 1st, 2011, 01:02 am
Social network friendspam

Random cynicism, human-powered data mining, or the latest iteration of 419 scams?

I’m on Twitter, and while I’m not a prolific poster, occasionally tweets will attract the attention of some random bot that decides to follow me, maybe thinking that I’ll follow it back. I mostly ignore them - everything I post is public, after all, so it’s not as if there would be any benefit in them following me via twitter.com’s APIs as opposed to screen-scraping twitter.com/skington every so often.

I’m also on Facebook and LinkedIn, which are walled-garden sites, though, and require some degree of human interaction. And that’s where things get intriguing.

I view LinkedIn as a purely professional social network, which is why, with a few exceptions, I don’t friend anyone I haven’t actually worked with. Occasionally I’ll see a friend request come in from a marketing guy at UK2, or a UK2 Group company, who’s clearly asking anyone he can find (it’s nearly always men) to connect with him so he can boast a larger number of connections or something. That’s OK - it’s a different but valid interpretation of social networks, and everyone has a different interpretation of what it would mean to be friends or connected with someone. Some friend everyone they’ve ever met, and connect with everyone they’ve shared office space with. Others restrict themselves to people they actually consider friends, and people they’ve worked with and would work with again.

Then Jacob Wall turns up today. Jacob Wall describes himself as an “Account Manager at Steadfast Networks”, which I assume to be steadfast.net. The only connection between me and him is that he works for a hosting company in Chicago, and my company’s parent company owns a hosting company, or maybe it’s a data centre, in Chicago. (I needed to google that - I’m not involved in any of this stuff at all.)

I can only assume this is friend spam: trying to inflate your connections numbers by attempting to friend everyone in your industry. Maybe this works for him - maybe he does this a couple of days after each major conference, hoping that a few people thing “this must be some random guy I met in a bar” and friend him.

At least Jacob Wall is a plausibly real person - he’s on Google and his details match. The next one is altogether weirder.

Earlier today, Facebook emailed me to tell me that some random guy person called Michael Waiganjo wanted to be my friend. I have no idea who this Michael person is (although I suspect the profile picture is fake - if you’re not on Facebook, or the account has been pulled, this is the image in question). So I told him to fuck off.

But what’s in it for Michael? Why does being my friend on Facebook matter? I can understand rogue apps requesting excessive privileges just to display a pretty picture, and promptly mining my contacts database for juicy information; is this an attempt to do the same via the subtly different method of claiming to be an impossibly cool person?

Or is this the latest iteration of 419 scams? Get friended, burble away with random plausible everyday stuff like “hey, I ate roast beef and it was awesome” for a few weeks, and then say “Hey, mate, I’m awfully sorry, but I need, like, 10 bucks” and see if any sucker bites?