My story, sad but true.
While doing research for the blog post I wrote on Sunday comparing the “People you may know” feature of various social networking sites, I made the soon-to-be regrettable decision to add friends to my Bebo account. Like many services of their kind, they allow you to import your address book in order to connect with friends who are already members.
Though I use my own privately-hosted email account and maintain my address book in Entourage on my home computer, I use Gmail as a conduit to import contacts specifically in these situations. I must have uploaded my address book to Gmail three or four months ago, and really haven’t looked at it since. So just like with FriendFeed, Goodreads and Pownce, I imported my contacts and found that six friends are already registered with Bebo and I could instantly add them to my network. So that’s what I did. That’s all I did. I said “Add friend” for each of those six people and then I navigated away from the page. I mistakenly assumed that the remainder of my contacts would be discarded, as they had been on all of the previous sites with which I had followed the exact same process.
I got up to get something from the kitchen and came back to my computer a few minutes later. Sitting in my inbox were six emails, Mailer-Daemon failure notices and other auto-responses. I was confused. I had also apparently sent myself an email so I opened it up. The subject line read: “New invitation from Whitney Hess.” Within the body of the message was a request to connect as friends on Bebo, noting my email address (twice) and a link to accept or reject the invitation.
My stomach sank. What had happened? Did an invitation somehow get sent out to my entire address book? I scrambled to log in to Gmail and scroll through my contact list. I was terrified to find who was in there. I hadn’t touched it in months after all, and I rarely if ever delete email addresses from my past.
What I found in that list was not pretty. Ex-boyfriends and ex-flings with whom I am no longer on speaking terms, friends of ex-boyfriends who I’ve been deliberately avoiding, and former friends who have deliberately been avoiding me. In other words, people who haven’t seen my name pop up on their screen in a really, really long time. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.
I immediately deleted about 50 names from the list, also including random addresses for tech support, mailing lists, and various industry bigwigs whose email addresses I just happen to have, like Jakob Nielsen for instance. Then I signed on to Bebo and deleted my account so that anyone who follows the link in the invitation will get a “no such user” error and assume the email is just spam. That’s what I hoped would happen.
This morning as I was scrolling through my unread emails on my BlackBerry, I came upon the name of one of those ex-things. Nice guy, but not for me. Unfortunately it didn’t end amicably, and we haven’t so much as IMed since June of last year. I’m guessing he’s moved on and is happy in his life and I’m just a distant memory. Then the poor guy comes into work on a Monday morning and finds a message from me in his inbox. I can only imagine what he was thinking as he noticed the sender’s name, cursed me under his breath and then debated whether or not to open it.
His response, short and to the point:
“I’m going to guess that was an accidental request.”
I deeply appreciated his mercy. But it’s only been a couple days so I’m still bracing myself for what’s to come from the others. Even though I am 100% convinced that I absolutely did not hit any link, button or other control on that page to send this invitation out, something in the back of my mind questions whether I knew it might happen. Wasn’t it Freud who said, “There are no mistakes”?
Still, I was leading a perfectly happy existence with those people far in my past. I wanted it to stay that way, if not forever then at least until I’m married with children and outrageously rich so that these guys really have something to be jealous of. I want to sue the crap out of Bebo for doing something I didn’t authorize, but I’m sure they’ll just claim that I accidentally clicked the wrong thing on the page. Of course I blame AOL. Since the acquisition, I’m sure they’ve implemented all sorts of underhanded ways to accumulate more email addresses to sell to merchants. The bastards.
Has anything like this ever happened to you? Do I have any recourse? Should I just suck it up and get over it? I mean, I’ve taken the necessary steps to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again — at least next time I’ll just be spamming my friends; they’re used to ignoring me.
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