A London-based writer, broadcaster and journalist, Stefan Simanowitz writes for publications in the UK and around the world including the: Guardian, Independent, Financial Times, Washington Times, Global Post, Huffington Post, New Statesman, In These Times, New Internationalist, Prospect, Lancet, Salon.com, Contemporary Review, Mail & Guardian.
He has a background in policy, political strategy and international human rights law and has worked for the European Commission, Liberty and the ANC during South Africa’s first democratic election campaign. He has reported from mass graves in Somaliland and Indonesia, prisons in Cameroon and South Africa, refugee camps in the Sahara desert and he writes on all aspects of global politics. He also has an interest in culture and travel, writing reviews on music, literature, film and theatre and taking photographs to accompany his reviews and reportage.
The Other Afrik - International - Crime - Technology
How I stumbled on my Facebook spy
In the week that Eric Schmidt, Google CEO warned of the danger that the Internet could strip current and future generations of their privacy, I discovered, quite by chance, that someone was using Facebook to spy on me.
Facebook users will be familiar with the site suggesting people to become friends with. Normally, I ignore these messages, but last week Facebook suggested that I befriend someone called Tahia Jaman. She had no profile picture but what caught my eye was the fact that we had twenty-nine friends in common. Intrigued that there could be someone I’d never heard of who knew so many of my friends I went to her profile. Bizarrely the twenty-nine people we had in common came from all corners of my life. It was only when I scrolled down her profile further and saw that Tahia Jaman had a total of twenty-nine friends that the penny dropped.
Her profile had clearly been set-up with the specific purpose of monitoring my activity. Friendship requests had been sent to all my friends, twenty-nine of whom had accepted. As a friend of so many of my friends ’Tahia Jaman’ would be able to see comments that they posted on my ’wall’ or I posted on theirs. By so doing information about what I had been doing and events I was planning to attend could be easily collated. I reported the incident to Facebook and her profile was removed soon after but the incident shows how easy Facebook can be used for devious purposes.
Whilst this crude form of cyber-spying cannot replace more sophisticated, labour-intensive methods such as phone-tapping or surveillance, it is nonetheless effective, cheap and available to anyone. With the launch in America, last week, of Facebook Places monitoring the movements of Facebook users is set to become even easier. Facebook Places is a geo-location service that allows users to ’check in’ in places to alert their friends on Facebook where they are. It also allows others to ’tag’ people that they see in these locations. With Google keeping search records from individual computers for nine months, Gmail monitoring users’ emails to provide relevant adverts, and Streetview containing pictures of almost every house in the UK, it is not hard to see why some commentators are heralding ’the end of privacy’.
Whether the ’Tahia Jaman’ profile was set-up by a regular stalker or by a more sinister network will remain a mystery but as journalist writing on a number of sensitive issues including international security, militarism in the Middle East and Morocco’s unlawful occupation of Western Sahara, my suspicions have been aroused. My attitude to the idea that I might be being spied on has always been a nonchalant one based on the fact that I have nothing to hide. It is nonetheless disconcerting to come face-to-face with evidence that you are being watched.
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