Cyber stalking?
December 16, 2006 9:29 AM   Subscribe

On the Internet, maybe somebody does know you're not a...

Last night I spent some time reviewing my Usenet posting history. I do it periodically, mainly to track my writing style. I used Google Groups to do the review and noticed an unexpected pattern that's directly related to Google Groups itself.

A little history: I've been posting on Usenet since the early nineties, under various IDs since I've switched ISPs several times. I have an established presence of over a decade in one newsgroup in particular. About a year ago I switched to using a Gmail ID for my posts and about a year ago (give or take some weeks) Google instituted their "enhanced interface" which included the ability to rate each post (the point of which I'm still unclear on). Note, you can only use the rating function if you're logged on via a Google account.

Last night I noticed that my posts were getting tagged via this Google rating system, beginning shortly after I started using the Gmail ID. The tagging itself isn't a big deal to me; I couldn't care less whether someone thinks my posts are "poor" or "average" or "superfantastic" or whatever. The part that got my attention is that this tagging is occuring across several newsgroups (most of which I rarely post to) and often singles me out.

There are threads where my post is the only one tagged (or, there may have been several posts if I followed up on more than one comment in the thread, and often each of my posts is tagged but not anyone else's). Since it has occurred across multiple newsgroups, it looks to me like for the past year some Google account user (or users, perhaps) has been going to specific effort to watch my posts on Usenet. I probably wouldn't have picked up on it were it not for the rating function, and theoretically it could have been going on for years. It feels like stalking.

As far as I can tell you can't identify who tagged you so there's probably nothing that can be done about the situation I've described. Nevertheless, I'm trying to understand why someone would be making an extended extra effort to do this. I'm now considering--yet again--changing to another ID or temporarily posting via an anonymizer, just so I can see if this pattern continues. Am I seeing this wrong, am I being paranoid?
posted by fuse theorem to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe they just like your writing and look for your posts.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:56 AM on December 16, 2006

Before you get all paranoid, has it occurred to you that Google may only be showing you the scores for your own posts?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:47 AM on December 16, 2006

I vote for paranoid. That someone seems to be keeping an eye on your public writing doesn't seem all that creepy to me. I'd vote for "flattering," instead. If someone was somehow getting to private stuff, or trying to contact you directly, that might be different. This, I wouldn't worry about too much, especially if it's been going on for awhile with no escalation.
posted by not that girl at 10:52 AM on December 16, 2006

Seconded. I have occasionally read through the old Usenet posts of, say, Dan Bernstein or onetime sci.lang wiseguy Jacques Guy, because it's a simple way to find stuff I will enjoy reading.

I'm with you in the total incomprehension of the point of the ratings system, in Google Groups as in Slashdot. It doesn’t add value, and this is spectacular in the latter place, where thoughtful, considered stuff is lost as noise and GPL-forever platitudes and US-centric self-confident misjudged dismissals of social approaches gets consistently rated well.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 10:54 AM on December 16, 2006

Yes, that. There are people here whose posts I find so entertaining that I look for them elsewhere on teh web. Or it could be one of your exes or someone who knew you in high school -- someone who, though they don't necessarily want a continuing friendship with you for whatever reason, wonder what you are up to. I google one of my ex-husbands sometimes -- he was a hell of an interesting guy and I like to see what he's doing, even though we are not on speaking terms.
posted by Methylviolet at 11:31 AM on December 16, 2006

Or someone you work with or know tangentially is a little too curious (personal experience). The thing you control about it is how you think about it. So, yeah, you're probably just being paranoid.
posted by Morrigan at 12:44 PM on December 16, 2006

Even as far back as DejaNews, there have been several Usenet posters whose posts were sufficiently insightful/informative/whatever that I've gone back and read a bunch of them. If that interface had existed then and I'd found your posts useful, I'd probably have rated your posts, too.

Be flattered. ;)
posted by wierdo at 2:22 PM on December 16, 2006

Steven C Den Beste's answer sounds like the most reasonable (and the one that I was going to suggest). My guess is that Google only shows you ratings on your own posts, or on those that you've rated.
posted by antifuse at 3:39 AM on December 17, 2006

Google's ratings are bizarre. I have posted to Usenet myself for nigh on 13 years, and last year in alt.obituaries started noticing someone was rating all my posts low. After a bit I noticed there was a specific group being rated low, and another group of posters consistently rated at 5 stars.

I ignored it until accusations of favoritism started flying around on alt.obits, so I dug around Google a bit, and discovered that in some screens a rating will show on an individual post, and in other screens the rating disappears. For example, when I was viewing an entire thread on Google, ratings were evident. When I clicked on a specific poster's posts for a certain month, the same ratings I just saw had disappeared.

The ratings themselves even changed; one of my posts was rated as 1 star when viewed in the thread, but was rated 2 1/2 stars when viewed in the summary of my recent posts in the profile on Google. Note: I don't use Google to post, for what that's worth.

I think the main problem is Google Groups is glitchy and because it's beta they can ignore problems.
posted by smashingstars at 5:33 AM on December 17, 2006

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