How Bebo Ruined My Life

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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  1. Eduardo says


    While I feel your pain, probably a lot more due to shoulder/back injuries, this has been documented. One of IxDA’s events held at Method someone was talking about “Ethics” in our ‘connected-world’.

    Unfortunately, not all companies have the sense of mind and respect to well, respect you and your privacy.

    The funny thing is, if you read their TOS you probably agreed to even allow them to name your first born.

    — it was Andrew Green from AARF who presented “Mind your manners” it doesn’t address your problem, but it talks about our challenges (after all, when we listen to Marketing folks and their amazing ideas – it’s our fault if we implement it) –


  2. says

    I did the exact same thing several weeks ago inviting all my friends to StumbleUpon. To this day I don’t know how I did it. Lucky for me the ex’s are long gone from my address book and, interestingly, 11 friends wrote to thank me for the heads up on SU. I was pissed at them nonetheless. Oh, and one stone-age dwelling friend mentioned “What the hell is this you sent me?”

  3. JZ says

    I had never heard of Bebo, but I got an email (surprise, surprise) from a close friend, so I joined. It turns out that she had the same issue, Bebo spammed everyone in her Hotmail contact list, including executives in her company. She was mortified. Sites like these are a disgrace to the web, there should be some sort of class-action lawsuit.

  4. Jay says

    No offence.

    You just need to get over it.

    Not like youve given them your home adress.

    You can just make a new account, set it to private and get on with your life.

    And add the email addresses seperatly.

  5. Voice of Truth says

    It's all becuase of your own stupidity. If you maintained proper relationships with people then you wouldn't have cared at all.

    • says

      really… wow that was all you could offer? why even post, I mean I am sure your well thought out and witty response probably took you most of the morning to think of, but come on.

      Maybe next time you can use that time doing something a bit more productive, and not so negative… like growing up.

    • mariobourque says

      Nothing like taking an anonymous shot at somebody. Glad to know there are cowards out there like you. You better hope the hell we never meet.

  6. says

    As a point of Internet safety, it's best if you don't allow online services to communicate with one another. Facebook wanted access to my addressbook, too, but as there's no way of knowing who has access to that information or who *might* get access to it in the future, it's far better to restrict it as much as you can.

    Sure, maybe all it will do is download my addressbook and send an invite, but with access to my gmail account, it also has access to all of the information in all of the messages retained by gmail. Now, in this case that's not so bad—you're not sending mail through gmail, so probably you've already seen the worst that could happen from this incident.

    What happens when some disgruntled employee at Facebook or Bebo or Social Networking du Jour decides to make the software raid a user's mail account and forward every message to everyone in the address book? It hasn't happened yet, that I am aware, but it's only a matter of time until it does.

    In short, if you want to send an invitation via a social networking site, compose the email yourself and send it manually. Don't trust the sysadmins to be honest; 99.9% of them are, but .1% is still a really big number when your reputation is at stake.

    Thanks for helping to raise awareness!

  7. ravm says

    I wouldn't worry about it too much. I seriously doubt they'll get added to any direct mailing lists, and really, while it may seem painfully embarrassing, I can guarantee that none of them care about it as much as you do, and none of them will give it a second thought in a week.

  8. says

    Whitney, your posts are so spot-on (I know this is a > 1 year ago…catching up!). There are people commenting saying, “who cares?”, but being a professional with a good reputation makes you want to care. Worst of all, it was out of your control. You've just inspired me to update my address book!

  9. Kat says

    I just found in my google account that had access to my gmail account. I have no idea who they are and how they got that access. I have denied access….now. They should be sued.

  10. Emily says

    Several years behind in reading this, but I can relate so very much! It’s happened to me before on LinkedIn. It was so embarrassing. I just ducked my head for a few days and waited it out. I totally blame LinkedIn, too. Misleading button hierarchy. Ugh.


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