Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Cyber Stalking & Other Suburban Hobbies

It's been an interesting week. For one thing, it's February. Is any Midwesterner shocked that the groundhog saw his shadow and we've got six more weeks of winter? I am... I suspected from the pile up of ice and snow outside that it might be more like sixteen weeks.

Of course, February does bring some good things. Valentine's Day, a.k.a. Another Excuse to Eat Chocolate. The latest release, TANGLED UP IN LOVE, by the lovely Heidi Betts. (Today! It's out today! Everyone, read Pam's great interview with her!) The premiere issue of the Marilyn Brant Newsletter... Okay, maybe that last one isn't on par with the previous two, but I'm excited about it! And I also have a new contest--The "Who Needs Valentine's Day?" Contest--which is a celebration of one sensuous thing you should treat yourself to anytime, not just on the upcoming heart-filled holiday: A Victoria's Secret lotion!

So, contest rules: I have 3 lotions to give away. 2 of the lotions (one "Pink" and one "Very Sexy") are in the smaller 1.7 fl.oz. size, and 1 lotion (Dream Angels "Wish") is in the significantly larger 8.4 fl.oz. size. I will be sending out Newsletter #1 toward the end of the month and would love and appreciate any new subscribers. (I'm trying very hard to be entertaining and add in little extras. :) That said, you do NOT have to sign up for my newsletter to be entered into the drawing, you just need to post a comment on my blog anytime between now and noon on February 28th. However, if you ARE a current or soon-to-be newsletter subscriber, I will enter your name TWICE in this month's contest, so you'll have double the chance of winning. And, just so I'm being fully transparent in my bribery, newsletter subscribers will have special contests JUST FOR THEM coming up soon--with even bigger and better prizes! That's right--you, too, could be one of the few, the proud, the Marilyn Brant Newsletter Readers! (Here...I'll even helpfully provide you with the link. :-)

Whew. End of promo.

In other news, the convergence of life and art is sometimes kinda creepy. I've had numerous conversations with several friends over the past two months on cyber stalking and related topics, such as Googling one's exs. Perhaps some of you have done a bit of the latter. Most people I've talked to have looked up themselves, a few past loves or, at the very least, some hot movie star. Since I'm currently writing about a couple of characters who have far more techno proficiency than I have, I've got them doing a little Internet "research" on each other. To make sure I understood the depth of information that might be possibly retrieved, I figured I ought to test out my real-life investigating skills.

Turns out, it's pretty difficult to hide online, even with lots of privacy measures in place. One friend I spoke with claimed it would be easier to find old buddies with unusual names, but she suggested I'd run into roadblocks trying to hunt down someone with a much more common one.

Not so.

On my first attempt, I selected an individual (okay, I guy I'd dated briefly and was mildly curious about), whom I hadn't seen or communicated with since 1989. This person has a name so common it could almost be Jim Smith. It ISN'T, but you get the idea.... Here's what I knew about him aside from his first and last name: the state he grew up in, his middle name, his undergraduate university and his age.

Long story short--I found him. Right down to his work profile/address/phone number (in a state he had no history or interest in when we last spoke), the other cities he'd lived in over the past 20 years, a recent photograph, his house (an aerial view in addition to the address), his wife and her work profile/picture, awards and work recognition for them both, the names of their children, and even his sister and her husband. And I did it all in under 2 hours.

Now, lest you think I'm some super-detective chick, I'm afraid this is not the case. Or, perhaps, you already know how easy it is... With a tidbit or two of insider knowledge, some directed motivation and a willingness to deal with trial and error, you can cross-correlate the available online data on almost anyone and catch up on their life. To prove to myself that my first results weren't a fluke, I went on to pinpoint the locations of four other people--two that lived in foreign countries, three that had lives that were in no way "public," and none that I'd been in touch with in any way since the early '90s. In the process, I learned about their marriages/divorces/or lack of significant others and, in one memorable case, I even got to see someone's wedding photos (they were posted online, on a supposedly private site!). All of this without the benefit of even being a Facebook member yet...

Now, I don't have the interest or the inclination to contact any of these people, but the ease in which I COULD was enough to make me want to shout out a warning to you all: Beware, my friends! Take care in what you say online. Make sure you don't mind the world at large reading it. Yes, those of us who are writers DO choose to put a public face on our lives, and we tend to know our cyber community well enough to feel we're chatting with dear pals, but people do lurk with the intent of gathering personal information, even if they plan to do nothing malicious with it. This past week I was one of them. And, quite honestly, I don't know what scared me more: skulking through old friends' lives the way I did or knowing how easily someone else might do the same.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Marilyn! I signed up for your newsletter - yay! You are amazing! How do you do it all?

It's really scary how much information is out there, isn't it? So I guess I'll just confess here, before you find out on the internet somewhere. You see, when I was in my early twenties I worked on a movie with Brad Pitt. I know, you didn't know I was an actress once upon a time. And well, Brad and I got into a little bit of trouble one night in Hollywood and one thing led to another and well, you know that saying, "what happens in Vegas..." We ended up at Ceasar's Palace and really didn't know how we got there or what had happened (I'm told Tequila was involved - no one outdoes me and shots of tequila). But to make a long story short, we've tried to keep the details secret. So please, with your new found skills at finding info on the Internet, do me a favor and keep mine and Brad's names out of it. ;-) Thanks!

Marilyn Brant said...

LOL, Robin!!! You know, I think I DID come across that story already... At least, the woman in the back of the police car, sitting between Brad and that blackjack dealer, looked an awful lot like you :). Don't worry, though. I won't tell ANYONE.

Thanks so much for signing up for the newsletter, too. You're a sweetie!

Anonymous said...

I've tried to look up an old friend on-line several times with no success. Your old friends are apparently more popular than mine, LOL.

Anonymous said...

Marilyn, thanks for the lovely shout-out of my interview with Heidi. Very sweet of you!

And yes, the internet is scary. (Google maps with their street view is especially so.) I've done some of those curiosity searches, too, and it chills the blood just a bit. *shudder*

Sorry to hear about the 6 more weeks of winter. Just remember--the groundhog is only the messenger.

Anonymous said...

And Robin, I know why you don't want that story getting out--Daniel Craig would dump you, hmm?

Marilyn Brant said...

Cindy~security measures may be tighter in Canada, at least as far as what info is released online. BUT, I've gotten some practice now at hunting down people, so if you want some help trying to find someone... :)

Pam~thanks for turning me on to another wonderful author! I loved the excerpts Heidi posted on her website and am looking forward to reading more! As for Robin, doesn't she have a paparazzi photo of her and Daniel on her blog?! I coulda sworn I saw that once... ;)

Lisa Cohen said...

Marilyn--I totally agree with you about making sure you are comfortable with anything you put online. Not only is it easy to search, but it's *forever*. Even if you delete your website and blog and never post another thing to the net, you can be found via the 'wayback machine'.


While you can't do a keyword search there, you can enter a url of a site that used to exist and see archived copies of it.

A little bit scary, no?

So I follow the rule I learned from my mother as a child--don't say anything about someone you wouldn't want them to hear through someone else.

And re: winter--I suspect it will take until April to melt out all the permafrost on our lawn. Shoveling has been interesting--great exercise throwing snow over the walls from past storms. Sigh. I love winter, really I do. . .


Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Marilyn,

Great blog- Hey- six weeks? I have a day count down- 40 days until Spring! Yay!-(Okay, I know we'll probably still have snow since it snowed in May last year-but hey, a girl can dream.)


Marilyn Brant said...

Lisa~ohhh, I didn't even know about that archive site... Thanks for sharing the link. As for winter exercise via shoveling--we do have THAT going for us, don't we? I might be ready to throw myself off a snow cliff by the end of this winter, but at least I'll have awesome muscle tone :).

Nancy~good for you having a countdown! 40 days sounds so much sooner...and, tomorrow, it'll be 39!

Anonymous said...

LOL, Pam!

And Marilyn, it's only like my favorite picture ever! ;)

Gail Fuller said...

Thanks for the great post, Marilyn.

Gee, the things you learn on-line - stories about Brad and Robin (a former blackjack dealer? Who knew?), Robin and Daniel, ... :)

Yes, I've learned I want to be Robin. LOL!

All the best,

Marilyn Brant said...

Gail~I think we're agreed...I wanna be Robin, too!! :) Maybe she'll loan us Brad or Daniel or BOTH for a while, so we can take some cool pictures with them, too! *wink*

p.s. For those of you who don't know this: Gail just earned her black belt!!! How impressive is that?!

Morgan Mandel said...

They were saying on TV the other day that we are becoming a less private society. It does seem to be true.

Morgan Mandel

Vesper said...

Marilyn, you're right, this is scary - I knew it was relatively easy to obtain information but I thought more was needed than a Google search...

I will subscribe to your newsletter - not for the contests but because I'm sure I'll love it! :-)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but when it comes to Brad and Daniel I don't share. ;)

And lol, Gail! Congrats on your black belt...I guess that means if you really wanted Brad or Daniel you could take me down. :)

L.A. Mitchell said...

I think you missed your calling, Marilyn. Can we crown you Friendly Stalker of the Week?;)

I much prefer to plug my ears and sing "la,la,la" to considering how disturbing all this non-privacy is.

I'm off to sign up for your newsletter :)

Marilyn Brant said...

Morgan~I agree. I think it would be hard to remain as private as we'd been in prior decades just because of the free exchange of information.

Vesper~what a kind thing to say!! Thank you so much :).

Robin~LOL! I suspect Gail could take us ALL down if she wanted to, she's just too nice to do it!

L.A.~I love the title! Do I get a sash and a tiara, too? And thank you (*hug*) for signing up for my newsletter ;).

Anonymous said...

First of all, so glad you reminded us about the newsletter. I'd signed up under my now-defunct email address, so that wouldn't have worked out at all! I've now changed to a working address. I hope I didn't miss anything. I didn't see any messages in the archives.

Secondly, what you were able to find is so scary! I do try to be vague about my personal details on my blog, but I know that anyone with a little skill could probably find me anyway.

Marilyn Brant said...

Caryn~you haven't missed anything yet. I'm not sending out the first issue until later February :).

As for the cyber stuff, the more I find out, the more frightening it is. It just feels very Big Brother to me, so I'm as resentful as I am scared...

Morgan Mandel said...

Well the characters on the book cover are not from around here with those sun tans!

Great post.
Morgan Mandel

Marilyn Brant said...

Ha! Thanks, Morgan :).