Dave, this is a weird question, but I was talking to my Mom about LinkedIn, Orkut and Ryze when she got a funny look on her face and said “I bet criminals use these sites to buy and sell illegal stuff”? I laughed at the time, but now I’m wondering…
I would never have thought about this and I still have a niggling suspicion that your Mom might be watching too much of the The Sopranos or something, but it turns out she’s spot on!
This entire story passed me by a few months ago, but according to the BBC World Service drug dealers were busted for using Orkut to sell drugs.
It’s an amazing story, actually. Apparently, over half the seven million Orkut members are Brazilian, which by itself is curious. I mean, the population of Brazil is 186 million, and over 3 million of them are Orkut members. A subset of those 3 million decided that Okrut was a logical place to deal drugs like marihuana and ecstasy, unfortunately it is traceable.
At the time, Google’s spokesdroid said “We are aware of the situation and are currently looking into it. When we are made aware of situations that are against our terms of service we take appropriate action.” A definite “do no evil” challenge.
Criminals using an online networking site really makes me think of the law of unintended consequences. Who would have thought when Google employee Orkut Buyukkokten put together the Orkut social networking site that they’d have to deal with Interpol, the Brazilian police force, and the Drug Enforcement Agency, all because of some savvy, tech drug dealers?
Other than that one story, however, I can’t find much indication that networking sites, particularly more professionally oriented sites like LinkedIn, have been implicated in any wrongdoings. Well, Ryze has at least one criminal with his own Ryze profile online, as you can read about in this discussion: The PlexPay Network Scam. You can dig around too, if you’re curious: Google myspace criminal arrest, Friendster criminal arrest, and so on…
There are also important implications regarding our own privacy and how much we should trust people we don’t know who seek to connect and communicate with us on these social networks. It’s a few years old, but Joi Ito has a thought-provoking article on his weblog about this topic too: Maher Arer deported by US Government.
As the folk at LinkedIn have been saying for a while, your best strategy is always to link only to people you know. Probably, linking to your Mom would be safe, too.