A Cautionary Tale About Social Media

A recent Bruce Schneier post highlights the pitfalls that can accompany social media. I am not a social media hater. I have a Twitter feed, a Linked In page, etc. However, that does not mean that I just randomly add information to my page. Further, I do not add every contact that tries to add me. I think that, just as in all other walks of life, it makes sense to think about what information to make available. I think my internal policies are reasonable and server me well.

If I were a fugitive from justice, however, I would probably have more stringent policies, such as not belonging to any social media sites.. Fortunately for the the US Department of Justice, not all fugitives, follow my advice. guardian.co.uk reports that the DOJ was looking for a criminal named Maxi Sopo. The DOJ believed he was hiding in Mexico, but could not find him.

Several months later, a secret service agent, Seth Reeg, checked Facebook again and up popped MaxiSopo. His photo showed him partying in front of a backdrop featuring logos of BMW and Courvoisier cognac, sporting a black jacket adorned with a not-so-subtle white lion.

Although Sopo’s profile was set to private, his list of friends was not. Scoville started combing through it and was surprised to see that one friend listed an affiliation with the justice department. He sent a message requesting a phone call.

“We figured this was a person we could probably trust to keep our inquiry discreet,” Scoville said.

Proving the 2.0 adage that a friend on Facebook is rarely a friend indeed, the former official said he had met Sopo in Cancun’s nightclubs a few times, but did not really know him and had no idea he was a fugitive. The official learned where Sopo was living and passed that information back to Scoville, who provided it to Mexican authorities. They arrested Sopo last month.

Schneier comments:

It’s easy to say “so dumb,” and it would be true, but what’s interesting is how people just don’t think through the privacy implications of putting their information on the Internet. Facebook is how we interact with friends, and we think of it in the frame of interacting with friends. We don’t think that our employers might be looking — they’re not our friends! — that the information will be around forever, or that it might be abused. Privacy isn’t salient; chatting with friends is.

How right he is.