It started off as an inbound phone call to my cell phone. Even though the caller ID listed the call as "private," I answered the phone since I was waiting for a return call from someone I had just spoken with.
A friendly voice on the other end said, "Hello Julie. This is Steve." As a rather common name, I wasn't sure who Steve was. Trying to stay polite, I engaged in the conversation, only to be questioned about my occupation as an online dating expert, details of my life growing up on the east coast, where I went to college and other personal information about me. Steve apparently knew me well.
Steve, it turns out, is a single guy living in Los Angeles. He doesn't believe in online dating. He isn't a member of any online dating sites. However, out of curiosity, he decided to do a search on Plenty of Fish as a non-member. Since POF is a free dating site, cost wasn't the issue. Steve just didn't believe online dating worked, but decided to dip one toe in to go fishing in a search of women in a geographic area within my age range.
When Steve found my profile photos, along with my complete profile details, he downloaded the pictures to his computer. One-by-one, he posted the photos in Google Image Search to see what information he could find out about someone named Pianobaby on POF.
As he described my life to me through his extensive Google search, Steve admitted he went "undercover" to learn more about the person behind the photos. He found my websites, watched a few videos, found my mobile phone number and mailing address. He had spent about 20 minutes doing an informal background search to find out where my favorite restaurants were and the types of music I liked. It was that easy.
Steve was well prepared for his initial phone call and I felt totally naked. I had no idea who he was. I could have hung up on him, but my curiosity took over to find out exactly what this mystery man was up to. Steve described the exact shopping center my P.O. box was located in, named the developer who renovated the property, and listed all of the theatrical performances scheduled in Los Angeles, of which I might be interested in attending. He knew the names of all of the restaurants in my neighborhood and talked at length about the one's that were no longer in business.
Do you find this creepy?
I had no idea what Steve's last name was, or if his name was really Steve. I didn't have his phone number, but he eventually revealed his name and number to me, along with the neighborhood he lived in. His parting words to me were, "It's my goal to take you off of this dating site and sweep you off your feet. You don't need to be on an online dating site." Sound romantic? I wasn't convinced yet.
With that, we ended the conversation. Steve said he'd be busy for three months and listed his agenda, but would like to get together when he was free. I wondered whose number he'd be dialing after mine.
Did Steve really like being a cyber-sleuth? How does this affect online dating, if you don't need to sign up to become a member and you can find out someone's identity based just upon a photo they may have posted online? What happens to your business photos on Linkedin or your personal photos on Facebook if they can be easily matched with your online dating photos?
At the end of the day, we're creating permanent digital footprints wherever we go. You may think you've run away from posting on social media, but you really can't hide.
Wishing you much love and joy in cyberspace, or wherever you may roam.
Julie Spira is a leading online dating expert and founder of CyberDatingExpert.com. She's the bestselling author of The Perils of Cyber-Dating: Confessions of a Hopeful Romantic Looking for Love Online and creates irresistible profiles for singles on the dating scene. For more dating advice, sign up for the Weekly Flirt, follow @JulieSpira on Twitter, and read her column on DatingAdvice.com.