Monday, April 06, 2009

I'm not anti-social, I'm just...

Patricia Smiley here…

...paranoid about identity theft, a mental condition born of experience. Several years ago, one of the big three credit reporting agencies switched my social security number with one belonging to a financial scofflaw. After many months of dwelling in the dark abyss of bureaucratic hell, I finally resolved the problem but it was a stressful experience. That’s why I’m cautious about giving out personal information, and it’s the primary reason I’ve eschewed most Internet services like online banking, online shopping, and participating in social networking sites like MySpace or LinkedIn. In my opinion, they ask too many nosey questions and can’t guarantee to protect my data from scammers and thieves. I'm as social as the next guy, but why do I need to provide my date of birth to join a Yahoo group? Age schmage. If you're friends, you're friends.

My paranoia can be a problem sometimes, especially when I get requests to join online social networking sites. For example, last week a friend sent me an invitation to sign up for his Twitter Tweets. I haven’t opened his e-mail yet, because I’m not sure it really came from my friend. I say this because a couple of years ago somebody highjacked my e-mail address and spammed people with messages they didn’t want to read. That caused a chorus of loud complaints.

Still, many of my friends are intrepid Internet junkies, and I take inspiration from them. So a few days ago, I decided to vanquish my paranoia and open a Facebook account. I took a deep breath and clicked on the “sign up” button, which took me to a page requesting lots of personal data as well as a long boring agreement I had to accept. Basically it said we’ll try to protect your information but you should know that online life doesn’t come with guarantees. Without a paranoia coach to talk me down, I nixed Facebook. As much as I'd love to have a few friends on my wall, for now I'll just go it alone.

My decision seemed prophetic the following day when I heard about a destructive virus invading social networking sites. It starts innocently enough. You get an e-mail from a Facebook “friend” that says,

Hey, I have this hilarious video of you dancing. Your face is so red. You should check it out.

If you've received a message like that through Facebook or MySpace, you may have been exposed to the "Koobface" virus. "Koobface" comes through an e-mail sent by one of your social networking site friends inviting you to scope out a video.

Once the URL is clicked, "Koobface" prompts you to update your Flash player before the video can be displayed. Therein lies the virus, cloaked in a "flash_player.exe" file. According to the Kaspersky Lab, an antivirus organization working closely with Facebook, "the worms transform victim machines into zombie computers to form botnets."

Facebook has posted instructions about how to remove the "Koobface" virus: give your computer an antivirus scrub-down and change your Facebook password.

This attack on the world's most popular social networking site and its 120 million users comes just weeks after Facebook won an $873 million lawsuit against several people accused of hacking user accounts and spreading spam.

Which means, I guess, that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they're not out to get you.

Happy Monday!


  1. hi patty,
    love that last picture of the smiling sky.
    i joined facebook just a couple of weeks ago. basically because one of my nephews is touring peru at the moment and he's posting reports regularly.
    i was surprised when some friends found me so quickly and started to look for some people myself.
    then all these invitations to several groups came. but, like you, i'm too scared to join any of those, even if they come from my kids or other family members.
    but i think (and hope) that it is quite save to just use it to communicate with each other. it is nice to hear from people that one usually only gets to talk to at christmas or birthdays.


  2. Love the mouse pictures!

    I joined Facebook but don't open anything I'm leery of. Which means I delete a lot :)

  3. Okay, Sybille, maybe I'll dip my toe in the Facebook waters. Will you stand by in case I need somebody to talk me down?

  4. Karen, the mice are cute n'est-ce pas? I also love that cover for your next book THE MISSING INK. I'm looking forward to reading it. Yay!

  5. On second thought, the little guy with the corn kernel is a hampster. Right?

  6. Great post, Patty.

    I haven't joined Facebook, or MySpace, and don't get me started on Twitter - ugh.

    It's partly about data protection, but also about time - I don't have enough of it, and those things just strike me as giant black holes of time wastage.

  7. Hamster...mouse...hamster...mouse...

    They're all rodents, aren't they?

    And one more thing about Facebook: you don't have to friend anyone you don't want to. Just ignore them and they never hear from you. My niece has been consistently ignoring my friend requests. I don't take it personally.

  8. Rae, I totally agree about the time suck. On the other hand, I feel as if I might be missing the proverbial boat by not joining in. And Twitter I just don't get.

  9. Oh, Karen, I have so worried about not responding to requests. So what is the proper etiquette? Do you e-mail the friend/relative privately and admit you're a bit paranoid about signing up for these things or do you risk an uninvite at the next family holiday dinner?

  10. And by the way, has anybody put inaccurate--dare I say false--information on his/her Facebook account?

  11. Patty, at risk of outing myself: I ignore requests that I don't want to be part of. No one is the wiser, since if you hit the Ignore button, it just goes away. I don't bother to contact anyone. Don't have time.

    I think anyone can put any sort of information down and become anyone they want to be. And I'm sure there are those out there like that. But there are frauds everywhere, even in real life.

    I joined mainly because of peer pressure to play scrabble. Now I'm reconnecting with people from college and high school. It's interesting, and many of them are reading my books now!

  12. I joined Facebook a couple months ago, and it's great fun. Re-connected with some lost law school classmates (the ones not in prison), college classmates (the ones not in bankruptcy) and ex-wives (the ones not serving process).

    There are a LOT of writer groups, and LOTS of readers who want to be friends. So, you're able to interact face-to-face with far more readers than at a book signing.

    You can upload your blogs to your wall, keep track of fellow authors' book tours and promote your own. I will upload Patty's blog shortly with a provocative headline, and it will have a direct link to this site.

    I recommend it, and any Naked Author readers can connect with me there. Because there are lots of "Paul Levines," you may have to use the advance search and plug in my email at paul.publications AT

    As for viruses, I don't know of anything that might infect your computer or scramble your d,e8xu23l3ekc83kc,ds80-s322.

  13. Wow, online scrabble, provocative headlines, and another e-mail address. Sounds attractiver and attractiver.

    My question is why can't I go to a Facebook page without signing up? I recently wanted to get details about a funeral and couldn't even open the link without a membership. That doesn't seem right.

  14. Ah, Patty, but that's the beauty of Facebook. You can't see someone's profile unless you're a friend. It at least gives the illusion of more privacy than, say, Myspace.

  15. So what kind of information is in a profile? Can you control the content?

  16. you can put into your profile as much or as little info you like.

    some people even put their holiday pics online there. most of it is optional. as karen said, only those who you allow on your list can see you and read your comments.

    paul was kind enough to accept me as a friend. so now i can read all his comments and it is very intresting!!! go join.

    my profile picture alone is worth joining *lol* it was taken last carnival.


    oh yes, and there are quite a few patricia smileys there. so if you don't want to be fopund, just don't put a picure in there.

  17. I feel better about it now. It might be worth it just to see Sybille's carnaval picture.

  18. Isn't the point to be found? And can people find you by your photo? For example, do you search for "Patricia Smiley" and every picture of every Patricia Smiley pops up from which you choose the correct one. Oh my, this sounds complicated...

  19. you just write a name in the box and a list of everyone with that name comes up. there are quite a few patricia smileys in there. most of them don't have a picture with their profile, but some of them have their hometown or state to be recognised by.

    my daughter for instance has a picture of herself being "simpsonized" but as there are not that many sonia lawsons who are fans of the simpsons in germany, her friends know it's her.

    just try it out, you can always unsubscribe again.


  20. Okay, I think Sybille has finally talked me down.

  21. We just started a Facebook page for Seattle Mystery Bookshop, so we can promote author events that way.

    It's astonishing to me how many people find other people on Facebook, and how it's turning into THE networking site.

    But it's cheap promotion, and that's no small thing.

  22. Fran, can I be your friend?

  23. Coming late to the conversation ... I received my first Facebook "invitation to be a friend" a couple of years ago, so seeing as I knew the person and didn't want offend, I joined. Oh, Lord - within a short time all these people I had never heard of were sending me emails claiming me as a "friend." Now, call me old-fashioned, but friendship doesn't come cheap or fast - and I felt a bit under siege. So I canceled my Facebook entry and - I hope - all evidence of my time there. I felt vulnerable, and realized that I just didn't want to be that "available" - so to speak. And as for Twitter - just not interested.

  24. A day late and perpetually) a dollar short...

    Yes, I'm on Facebook, Patty. A great way to find and keep in touch with high school classmates and other people far away that I haven't seen in years. As an old friend commented, Facebook is like a reunion in and of itself!

    Of course, I haven't been able to pick this "Paul Levine" fellow out of the crowd of Paul Levines, apparently he hasn't identified himself as a Penn State alum.

    I also have a complicated password, Paty--and don't put my SSN anywhere.

    (Yes, our internet gateway is fixed and flourishing, and the mouse that fried following replaced)

  25. On the subject of birthdays, Patty, I should also point out that some people find it conveient to list merely their birth day, and not the year, which is an option.
    (whistling idly)

    So, if you're a touch sensitive about that fast approaching 40th birthday....

  26. Har har har. Glad to see you back in the fray, Jeff. Hope all of your computer glitches are behind you.

  27. Our J, that's a bit what I fear, as well. Decisions. Decisions.