I just signed up for a MySpace page. I’vebecome very interested in social networking and it was time to join thefun. Once you create an account the next step is to add some friends toyour network. So the first thing I decided to do was send an invite myfriend Bill Gates. (Now I don’t expect you to believe that Bill Gatesand I are friends. I admit that I’ve never met the man, but I'm tryingto make a bigger point, so bear with me.)
A quick search on MySpace for Bill or William Gates returned 192pages of search results. They couldn’t all be my Bill. I narrowed mysearch. I know what Bill looks like, so I searched just for profilesthat contained a picture. I gave up after finding over a 100 profileswith a picture of Bill Gates and I had only reviewed half the profilepictures. I will say that the number of profiles with Bill in a sweaterwere about even with those of him in a suit. Only a few choose to dragup that old mug shot of him from his teenage years.
Being Bill’s imaginary friend I know a lot about him. For instance,he lives in Seattle. So I narrowed my profile search to those with apicture and that live in Seattle. I was down to 21 profiles. I alsoguessed that the real Bill Gates would know how old he was. There arelimits to my imaginary friendship. I used Wikipedia to figure that out- 52. Throwing out everyone that wasn’t smart enough to check Bill’sbio in Wikipedia to get the right age, I got the number down to 17.
Here I became stuck. There was just no way to narrow down anyfurther without reviewing each profile and making a guess. And yes, I’mthinking the same thing you are; none of them were actually created byBill Gates. They say that on the Internet no one knows you’re a dog. OnMySpace no one knows if you’re Bill Gates. Or if you’re not.
This type of profile-squatting is a problem with social networks. Inmany cases it’s clearly harmless fun. But if it’s being used to try andfool people or profit from someone’s celebrity it’s clearly a problem.Even worse, is if a phony profile is being used to slander someone’sreputation or to gain trust with someone only to bully or betray them.
Recently I read with great interest that MySpace reached anagreement with 49 state attorneys general to help organize an industrytask force to solve the problem of verifying identities and ages ofpeople on social networks. Symantec has been asked to participate inthe task force and we're looking forward to our involvement. It won’tturn Bill Gates into a friend of mine. But it will make social networksa better place.