- Joined Oct 6, 2009
LA-based "Formspring.me" service to reveal identities of anonymous users
(AP)–2 days ago
LOS ANGELES — Twelve administrators of the website Formspring.me, including CEO Mark Baxter were arrested on Monday for data phishing and misleading the public, when the site was revealed to be a "social experiment," which will culminate in the automatic revealing of users' private data on April 1, 2010.
Baxter, 28, was sentenced in Van Nuys Superior Court for the creation of said website, which allows users to "send and receive anonymous questions, and learn more about people you find interesting by following their answers."
Over 2 million people have used the site to communicate anonymously with other users since its creation in 2009.
"We allow users to sign up for an account and ask questions anonymously, but we still store their data next to the question. For legal purposes," said Baxter, in a January interview.
However, it was revealed, in a leaked personal email from Baxter to Anne Gralley, a friend, that the data was being stored for another reason.
"In less than a month, " Baxter wrote, "we'll be adding the name, email, and facebook account of each user next to all of their anonymous posts."
Gregory Deacon, a friend of Baxter's from college, remembers Baxter mentioning his idea for the this elaborate April Fool's Day prank.
"He was using that Facebook application, Honesty Box, and he got some real nasty stuff over it. So he said to me, 'Wouldn't it be great if someone made something like this, then showed everyone's names one day?"
More troubling still, it's almost perfectly legal.
The Terms of Service that all users, by their participation with the site, legally agree to
includes the following:
"formspring.me reserves the right to change these Terms and Conditions at any time without notice, and your continued use of formspring.me constitutes your consent to such changes."
Because of this disclaimer, the automatic revealing of registered users' names and information on April 1st will be completely legal.
However, it was discovered by investigators that the site also records the name and information of any anonymous users who are logged into Facebook.com at the time of their post.
"If they don't register for an account, the site can still grab their name and facbook URL from
a file that facebok [sic] stores on their computer," the email message reads.
It is because of this feature that the additional charges of data phishing have been added.
Although Baxter and several programmers have been apprehended, any data that had been stored before yesterday will still
be published automatically by the formspring server at 12:00 AM (GMT) on April 1.
The public is advised to delete their formspring.me accounts and to warn others not to give away any private information on the website.
The company that funded formspring.me has set up a support line for users who want to have their names removed from the site as soon as they appear.
Please send requests to email@example.com.
It is not known, at this time, whether a class-action lawsuit will be filed.