In the light of all these reports about the dangers of information availability on the net, I decided to share a recent experience.
I received a letter addressed to somebody else at my home address. The name of the addressee was hidden in the little envelope window so I opened it. It was an invoice for a holiday booked a couple of days earlier to the South of France for two, lets call them Valerie Strassen and John Middleton. The cost of this holiday was quite high, and it had been booked by Valerie, so I decided to try to pop it through her door. At this point I assumed she probably lived a few doors away and they’d just got the house number wrong at the booking office.
I hit the internet and checked directory enquiries for any family called Strassen in my area. There were a couple, but they lived miles away and there was nobody in the household with the name Valerie. I looked at the invoice again. The agent reference was just a name, and the company organising the holiday said to deal directly with the agent. There was a generic phone number but this was a premium rate number and although I wanted to help, I didn’t want to run up my phone bill.
But in trying to look up this person, I’d started to think about them. Judging by the type of holiday, I guessed that they were probably both in their 20s. And where to people in their 20s hang out?
I went to Facebook and looked up Valerie Strassen. There were only about 4 and all had relatively open profiles. I looked up the first one’s friends list and sure enough, there was a J. Middleton listed. From their photos they looked plausible candidates for a couple type holiday in the South of France so I decided to give it a go. I sent Valerie a short personal message through Facebook with a few details about the holiday, explaining how the invoice had got the wrong address on it. I figured that if I’d got the wrong person, she could ignore me, but if I’d got the right one I might just be able to help.
I got a lovely email back saying that I had indeed got the right Victoria and that she’d contacted her agent and got the invoice sent out to her correct address and thanking me for going out of my way to inform her.
Valerie’s Facebook profile does not have much personal information about her, I don’t know where she lives, how old she is or anything like that. My profile doesn’t have that type of information about me either. We won’t have anything more to do with each other. But I’ve come away with a happy feeling at having been able to help a stranger, in quite a small way, and I think that Valerie is probably feeling a renewed faith in human nature.
And this was made possible by a social networking site – so maybe they’re not all that bad. I know that there is the potential for misuse of information. But there is also the potential for much more positive outcomes.