The advent of social networking websites has enabled instant communication across borders for users the world over, but abusers have found a far different use for such treasure troves of information in until-recently unimagined crimes.
This new form of Internet crime hit the University of Minnesota about two months ago when a student had her Facebook photo and phone number stolen and posted to various pornographic websites.
"I got some random calls from people from across the country just saying like, ‘Hey baby, just got your number off this website,’" said the sophomore, who wished not to be named because her information remains on the sites.
An unknown person put Lisa’s, as she asked to be called, Facebook picture on various women’s bodies and posted it on several pornographic websites. A textbox with her phone number accompanied it, leading to numerous phone calls and text messages.
"The pictures they put up of these naked girls were very well done," Lisa said. "At first I didn’t realize it was actually my face because it was so clean cut onto the pictures."
Amy Kristin Sanders, assistant professor of mass communication law, said having loose privacy settings and not being careful about logging out on public computers may invite hackers or attackers to repurpose private information.
"One of the real issues with Facebook is a notion of whether or not you actually have a right to privacy," she said.
"We find that in a lot of cases — whether intentional or not — users may give their passwords to a third party that they trust," Sanders said, "and once you’ve given that person your password, you really have no ability to control how they use that information,
The sporadic texts and phone calls for Lisa date back to August. They stopped for a while until one day, earlier this month, a stranger texted her to tell her the information was still posted on a pornographic website. She was finally able to trace the URL address with the help of the stranger and contact the police.
Lisa "had suspicions" of who did it because the person would have had her phone number.
Sanders said there is no standard profile of who misappropriates this information, but there has been an increase in such crime with the prevalence of social networking sites and online dating.
"My name on Facebook at the time wasn’t my full name, just first and middle, so it would have to be someone who would know my full name," Lisa said.
Kelly, another University student, was the victim of a similar crime last month.
Her phone number appeared next to provocative pictures of other girls on an Asian social networking site.
She was able to contact the webmaster, have her information taken off the site and catch the person who did it.
Police are still investigating Lisa’s case.
"I’m just hoping they can punish whoever did it," Lisa said.