Wednesday, June 8th, 2011
6/11/11 UPDATE: Facebook pulled down the Nicole Bally profile overnight. I wonder what was Facebook’s definitive evidence in making the call to delete… or was the profile just an embarrassment for supposedly savvy media figures, Silicon Valley insiders and Facebook itself, better erased than learned from? As of last night, 11 of 697 Bally’s friends — including Jimmy Wales, Eli Pariser, Peter Shankman, Jake Dobkin, Andrew Raseij — had owned up to their mistake, unfriended Bally and gained some wisdom from the encounter. Too bad more CEOs, Facebook board members, journalists and tech insiders didn’t get to make the same hard call in public. Meanwhile Celia Richards’ profile, with its misleading photo, is still intact.
Based on my own Facebook experience, I’ve seen at least 100 influential tech, media and politics folks — men and some women — accept friend requests from attractive women they don’t know. For as long as three years, these supposedly savvy folks have been having personal conversations and sharing photos online in front of strangers that few (if any) of them know personally. And they are, inadvertently, sharing lots of their friends’ private data with these strangers.
These people are in the tech, media and political digital elite. They should know better, right? They include professors at Harvard, Columbia, NYU, CEOs and execs at Internet companies, e-consulting firms, ad networks, and PR companies. They include senior journalists and editors at places like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker. Details below.
It’s possible that one or more of the winsome Facebook profiles who these e-savants have friended are robots — bimbots? — who exist only to spy on their influential friends’ private lives.
Who is the tech and media elite eagerly friending? Let’s start with the Facebook profile of one Nicole Bally.
Does anyone out there actually know Nicole Bally? Please write me ASAP if you do. Though Facebook says she’s got 697 friends, I suspect she doesn’t exist or, at least, isn’t operating on Facebook under her real name or photo. I left a message on Nicole Bally’s wall yesterday asking where she works, but haven’t heard anything back. Hello Nicole Bally, are you out there?
Nicole Bally’s list of Facebook friends includes people like Sean Parker, Arianna Huffington, Dana Milbank, Joichi Ito, Chad Hurley, Chris Anderson, Henry Blodget, James Fallows, Jeffrey Toobin, Camille Paglia, Curtis Sliwa, Jimmy Wales, John Dickerson, Loic Le Meur, Seth Godin, Amanda Congdon, Jim Kramer, Howard Kurtz, Steve Case, Pete Cashmore, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Tim Draper, Nouriel Roubini, Jim Breyer, Sarah Lacy, Vint Cerf, Wes Clark… the list goes on and on. Here’s the full list.
You’ve almost got to worry if you’re NOT on the list of Nicole Bally’s friends.
Nicole Bally sent me a friend request a while back and I almost fell for it. Hey, 40 people who I know and trust are her friends. Apparently.
When I finally friended Nicole Bally back yesterday (to further this investigation!) I discovered that roughly 99% of the posts on her Facebook wall are simply people accepting her friend requests. Some guys muster up an eager “hey, let’s have lunch sometime!”
Do the tech and media elite actually look at Nicole Bally’s wall posts before accepting her friend request? Among her very few personal posts over the course of three years are several about mywebpost.com.
Nicole Bally’s photo albums feature just three generic images posted in March of 2008 shortly after she joined Facebook, one of Mark Zuckerberg and two stock-photo-like images from March 2008, one subtitled “A wonderful time with a wonderful friend” and the other “The most beautiful place in the world.”
I’ve done more hunting online, but can’t find anything solid about Nicole Bally. Surely if she works in media or advertising in NYC or San Francisco and knows so many famous-for-pixels people, she would show up on LinkedIn or someone’s Flickr photo album.
Do any of you know Nicole Bally? If not, why have so many of you friended her and why are you sharing your private lives with her?
When a colleague of mine looked around online for other instances of Nicole Bally’s profile photo, using the nifty photo identification service TinEye, he discovered that Nicole Bally’s Facebook profile photo looks like a cropped photo of Nicole Carroll, a fitness trainer.
Maybe Nicole Bally — some of her Facebook friends are weight lifters — is actually Nicole Carroll? Maybe the whole FB page is a subtle marketing ploy for a future, tech-celebrity-focused pivot for Crossfit Training, where Nicole Carroll works. Much more likely, Nicole Carroll is a hard-working, innocent person whose image has been stolen.
It would be a relief to know that Nicole Bally is a real person and not a stolen photo and a made-up name.
Except I’d still be left wondering why so many tech, politics and media people friended Nicole Bally without having ANY idea who she is or what she’s peddling.
Then there’s Celia Richards. Facebook keeps suggesting I may know Celia and should become her friend. After all, we know 24 people in common, many of them media insiders.
Again, some Googling turns up nothing solid about Celia. Given the e-fluential crowd she apparently hangs with, Celia seems like a digital playa. But she’s got no digital fingerprint outside the walls of Facebook.
Is Celia real or just a bimbot created to harvest personal info — wall posts, friendships, photos, demographic information — from her credulous yet influential friends and their friends?
I don’t know for sure. But some more sleuthing reveals that Celia’s profile pic is actually a photo of TV star Kristin Cavallari. Duh! Maybe that’s why I don’t recognize her as a friend.
Perhaps Celia really exists, but just prefers to pretend she looks like Kristin. (Contrary to Facebook’s terms, BTW.) I’ll know more if she ever accepts my friend request.
If these Facebook profiles are not bona fide, what’s the real game? Theories vary, from comic to creepy.
Dude you guys it is the government. They lure you in with seductive women (or men if you are female) and they try to get information out of you without interrogation but with chatting.
Or maybe we’ve just stumbled into an elaborate, long-festering online version of the famous foreover alone flashmob?
More prosaically, Harvard Kennedy School professor Steven Kelman writes:
My guess is that somebody is setting up Facebook accounts with nonexistent (or hired) attractive women, and sending out large numbers of friend requests to guys with the hope that many will accept the request. (For all I know, similar requests, with attractive guys, are being sent to women.) Once you accept their friend request, they gain access to a lot of information about you…
We all know that companies in the past were very eager exploiting holes in FB’s architecture to scrape personal information.
Even after Facebook tightened up its privacy settings, it seems clear that people are blithely sharing way too much of their lives with people they haven’t fully vetted. And it seems likely that our conversations are being spied on, recorded and analyzed, either by folks from China or by corporate sleuths hiding behind seductive masks to track and influence conversations about their clients, customers and competitors.
Congresstwerp Andy Weiner put way too much online.
Don’t laugh. You may be sharing way too much with strangers too.
UPDATE: Dabitch offers more theories for who Nicole Bally and the army of bimbots could be working for at adland.tv. And Jesse Brown expounds on the power of the mutual friends list at Macleans.ca.
Here are a few of the top tweets on the matter: