January 26, 2014
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Who’s communicating with YOU?

surpriseRecently, I wanted to write a piece on the lies people tell in online dating profiles. I’d heard there was a “code” of sorts, and I wanted to check it out. So I set up a phony email account, a phony profile on a 7-day free trial, and posted my passport picture.

I also composed a profile pretty much guaranteed to chase men away (“must be intelligent, in shape, interested in opera …”). And I said I was interested only in candidates within 15 miles of me and within an age range five years older or younger than I am.

A day later I had more than enough material for my piece on dating-profile-lying, but I also learned a valuable lesson. First, I was besieged with email “winks”’ and “flirts.” Photos of obese guys who described themselves as “average build” and scary-looking dudes self-described as “extremely handsome.” One guy from Florida was 100 years old. Another from San Francisco was 32. Let’s just say I’m way out of geographical and age range for both of them. Several with unkempt beards and missing teeth – think Duck Dynasty or ZZ Top rejects. So much for stating preferences in your profile.

But the most worrisome part was that I started receiving emails from another dating site I did not sign up for—as if the first one had sold my bogus information. Then I started receiving email “replies” to messages I had supposedly sent (but did not). The messages – made to look as if I’d sent them – were automated and completely fabricated. I hastily deleted the profile, but emails continued to pour in. Then it hit me. Although I hadn’t sent any, who was receiving “winks” from me?

On a well-known business networking site, I routinely receive “endorsements” from people I barely know—for skills I don’t have, and never claimed to have. It seems the site prompts people in your network to endorse you, whether you want the endorsement or not. If you accidentally click the wrong button, they will even go into your email and invite everyone you’ve ever met (in your name, of course) to join your network.

Many businesses on the Internet make their money when people interact with each other. The more their members interact, the more services and upgrades they buy, the more ads they see, the more membership fees they pay. But if peoples’ honest interactions are not enough, be aware that these businesses have ways of creating the illusion of interaction where there is none.

So don’t judge too harshly if someone appears to send you a communication asking for an endorsement, a business connection, or even a date. It might be just a faceless, nameless software routine sending out automated messages—trying to get a response from you.

On the other hand, it might be a perfectly legitimate lonely, bearded mountain man with a casual approach to dental hygiene… seeking companionship with a good cook who owns her own shotgun.

If you’re interested, call me. I have names.

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  1. Christina

    I assume you mean LinkedIn here when you say: “If you accidentally click the wrong button, they will even go into your email and invite everyone you’ve ever met (in your name, of course) to join your network.” If you don’t, I can still report that I get a LOT of SPAM from LinkedIn via others who do not protect my information in their address books. And I vehemently disagree with your assessment that one should not judge harshly. It is their fault that they allow LinkedIn to harvest my information from their address books… keyword “my.”

    I make it a personal policy to always email the offending party and ask them if they have sent me that “invitation” and if they would please make it stop on their end; further, I point out that it would be polite if they would ask me before giving out my information. Often times, most times, in fact, I hear they did not know about it, frankly, that’s no excuse in my book… they SHOULD have known about it. And I send them another email every time I get a reminder of the invitation. I figure that if I have to be reminded, they have to be reminded.

    This is a real pet peeve of mine. Not so very long ago, no one would consider giving out personal information of another without asking first… nowadays, what? All politeness and etiquette are gone?

  2. admin

    True, people should be more careful. My (tongue-in-cheek) comment about judging harshly had more to do with clueless mountain men than savvy LinkedIn users, but I still bristle at the idea that we NEED to protect ourselves from automated web sites. :-)

  3. Jonathan

    Our lives are increasingly automated. When “social” computing took the scene, our social interactions also became automated.

    Eventually, the word “social” will come to mean “unwarranted and unauthorized exploitation.” For introverts, that’s what it means today.

    This has not been an automated response.

  4. admin

    Dear Not an Automated Response,

    You’re right, and I’m afraid you’ve “outed” some of us Myers-Briggs would label as introverts. I prefer to think of us as selective. :-)

  5. Dale

    Hmm. “Duck Dynasty” and “mountain men?” Does this bespeak a fondness for a certain reality TV show? (Hey, I’m not judging; I like the show.)
    Oh, and did you ever crack the “code,” or are you saving that story for a future installment?

  6. admin

    Dear Dale,

    I have no fondness for either DD or mountain men (never watched the show, only seen ads for it) … nor do I have any particular animosity toward them. Let’s just say it’s not a “type” that appeals to me. And, judging from the parameters I described in my fake profile, that means little to both websites and candidates.

    The code? It’s simple – sometimes desperate people resort to desperate measures. Buyer beware!