15 November 2008

Stop hitting the panic button!

Some tempests in teapots are not worth paying attention to, but this one got to me because of the slant on it.

I'm talking about the Twitterank storm.

I found out about Twitterank from, well, my Twitter feed, when people I follow mentioned that they got their rank done. I decided to check it out because I was curious. After all, that's why I'm on Twitter in the first place. It's been the best social networking site I've found so far (far more useful than F*******). Why wouldn't I want to learn something new about it?

The asking-for-the-password thing didn't make me terribly comfortable, but when Twitter asked me for my e-mail password (or when F******* asked me for my entire freaking life) it didn't make me feel too comfortable either. So I entered it, based on the best criteria I had:
  • Tweeters I trusted had tried it out
  • The Twitterank site was written in a language style I know very well: educated North American geek (that's a compliment, in case the author ever stumbles upon this post). I've received a lot of mail from phishers and wannabe hackers in my spam box, mostly since I went on F*******, but unlike most people I actually read some of it randomly. The writing is almost always frighteningly bad.
  • I don't consider Twitter an essential internet service like I do my e-mail or my on-line banking. If you get into my Twitter account, you can cross-reference it to my main e-mail address, but you don't get the password for it. Everything else on that profile is already publicly posted.
  • Unlike other sites, I didn't need to enter my entire freaking life to get any level of access. Think about it: what if certain social networking sites whose names I always asterisk out had been phishing? Er, and in fact, they were, in their own way, but people keep using them anyhow.
So, I clicked the submit button, I got a number back, I thought "hmph! wonder what the algorithm is," and went back to the rest of my life. To be a good private world citizen, I should have changed my password at that point, but I didn't. It was stupid, and that part I feel bad about. But not the rest.

But then (also over Twitter) I find about a ZD about gullible Twitter users who were driven by nothing by egos gleefully entering private information into an untested site. This is quickly followed up with a reply from the creator himself, posted in the same column.

What I don't like about this is all the points people are making about the madness of crowds, and how people should be more careful when they provide their passwords. Think: social networking sites ask for your password, your home town, and all sorts of other information that is an identity thief's dream, just so that you can have a chance of making it easier to plan birthday parties with people you already know. Yet Twitterank is the one we're supposed to distrust.

Did you use Twitterank? Do you think you would have used it if you had had anything really personal in your Twitter feed?

I know my answers.

Now then: I'm still somewhat ill and I'm way behind on my NaNoWriMo counts. I think it's time to duck back to my fictional 1964-in-an-alternative-universe. They don't have the internet yet.

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