Freaked out by the "People you may know" feature on Facebook. Help!

I recently joined Facebook but am not using my first name or any personal identifiable information, such as birthdate, schools I attended, work information, location. None of that is in my profile. I use my middle name instead of my first name because I don’t want anyone to “friend” me; instead, requests are sent by me to people I know well who have a Facebook account. I don’t have that many friends as a result, right now it’s 13, but that’s o.k. by me.

To my horror, someone I used to work with many years ago but have no other connections to, appeared in my sidebar under the heading: “People you may know”. How the heck could this happen? It obviously has to be coming from something on my end. Most of the other people listed in that “people you may know” page are a random assortment of people I don’t know, or random friends of friends, but this one outlier really bothers me.

The only thing I can think of is that I have emailed this person from my gmail account in the past, but I thought Facebook isn’t supposed to have access to that type of information?? I have not enabled the feature that lets Facebook look through your address book to find friends, so how is it doing this? This is just the type of thing that made me so paranoid in the first place. Does this “person you may know” now know that I’m using a different name on Facebook?

Facebook allows people to enter their email address books in to help with the “People You May Know” feature. Odds are a mutual friend that has both of you in their address book did this and Facebook rightly assumes that you and your former officemate know each other.

No voodoo, nothing you did, just how Facebook works.

Yeah, it’s always freaky when Facebook does that, even though there’s a perfectly good explanation. I remember when my dad’s face popped onto the sidebar - I physically did a double take.

The “People You May Know” feature has the unintended benefit of notifying me when someone has discreetly de-friended me. “Of course I know him, we’re FB friends! Um, aren’t we…?” (Not that this happens a lot, mind you…) FB’s helpful features are chock full of unintended consequences.

No, I am absolutely positive that we do not have a mutual friend. Remember, the 13 friends I have are friends I know well and all of them have nothing to do with my former line of work. Besides, that would mean that a bunch of other people like this would pop up, and that hasn’t happened. It’s just this one guy. Is it possible he entered his address book and Facebook matched my email address to his? How do I keep my email secret from other people? I’ve already changed all my privacy controls to lock everything up.

So does this mean that if I let facebook use my address book, other people that I may have emailed once will get me in their “people you may know” page?

Sure why not?

Is that an opinion? Looking for something more substantial.

Yes. Use a separate email address specifically for Facebook. Or don’t use Facebook. I don’t have the privacy concerns that other people do, but I understand that you have them, and Facebook is just not compatible with that.

It’s not just the e-mail address that’s used by Facebook. If this other guy has your name in his address book (even with a different e-mail address), then they might suggest the match.

As you point out in your OP, Facebook is throwing tons of unrelated people at you. It’s not some kind of psychic algorithm - it just throws out tons of possible matches and lets you see if you recognize any.

This highlights part of the privacy issues with Facebook. You can restrict the information you provide and share, but cannot stop other users from providing and sharing information about you.

Yes, there’s a reason that in XKCD’s new Map of Online Communities, the Island of Privacy Controls is in the middle of a large Lava Pool situated well back in the desert interior of the country of Facebook.

It amazes me why people are so spooked about things like this. I mean Facebook knows your physical location by your IP, some of your friends have gave it access to their emails, it is just like Googles spiders crawling for information. Just add privacy to your page, I cannot understand why people are so worried about privacy. OMG the whole world knows my friend had chicken for dinner!

The problem is that Facebook isn’t very open about the inner workings of the site. It is unlikely that anyone not working for Facebook can give you a factual answer, and it is even less likely that someone who is working for Facebook will.

If that person allowed facebook to have access to his address book, and you are in that address book, that could be where the suggestion is coming from. There’s no way to confirm that it is the exact reason why it showed up on your page, but it is clearly a method by which people do show up there.

Connections are easy to make when you have lots and lots of data.

Just both of us posting in this thread caused you to show up in my “People You May Know” box.

Not really.


Before I started a Facebook page, I opened a gmail account with my alias’ name (so, blank contacts book, and no one emailing that address), then used that to start Facebook. This way, I can find the people I want to “friend” and others, like high school cretins and distant family, can’t search for me, and there are no coincidental or accidental crossmatchings going on with however Facebook suggests people. I really joined as a way to keep tabs on coworkers, I was starting to get left out a little by missing updates and events that everyone else knew about via facebook invites, so I corrected that with the alias. This way, I also haven’t had to worry about privacy settings, my profile is public, there’s just a pic of me so people recognize my alias, and pics of my cats!

I am pretty much convinced they do something tricky. They store the names of people that users search for.

I signed up for my first Facebook account. I used my real name, but I very consciously did not allow it access to my Gmail and I did not give it my birthplace, high school, or college information. I was only a name in a town (that was far away from friends and family). The instant I hit the first page, before I made any friends whatsoever, it displayed that I “might know”… one of my best friends in HS and college.

The only way to know that we were connected was for it to have remembered that he searched for my name before I signed up.

Edited to add: I do have a fairly distinctive name that is not common.

what are the chances it is showing you people who have tried to view your profile? I guess no one knows.

This is me, too. Hate F-Book, but I’m getting left out of work stuff. it’s becoming a problem…
The only way i would join is with an alias, but I wondered if I’d be recognized.
So how do you add your co-workers as friends? Do they get a request from Joe Alias?

Oh, re-checking your post, it looks like you do use your own picture. As your profile picture? Is that what comes up on a friend request? Is that enough? Shoot, I wanted to use a fun pic instead…

Facebook may know my IP location but it’s not displayed. Even if it were, it wouldn’t matter if privacy worked and no one I didn’t invite knew who I was. If you’d read my post you would have seen I was very careful to add privacy to my page. If you “cannot understand” why people are so worried about privacy, then you apparently haven’t been reading the news. For example, I had a stalker many years ago (not a cyberstalker). I don’t want to go into details of what form that took for fear of identifying myself to him. For all I know he’s still obsessing about me. I don’t want to deal with that, thank you very much. I don’t want people to know I’m on Facebook unless it’s people I want to be friends with. It’s not an unreasonable desire.

I just thought of something. Continuing on the previous discussion: I’m in lots of people’s email address books, but this former co-worker was the only person that showed up in “people you might know”. Even people I’ve emailed many times over the years and vice versa don’t show up, and that list is very large, I’m sure. That’s why this creeped me out so much.

I think I’ll make a new email address as some have suggested (thanks) and forward that to my main account. I originally joined with a fake address, but I wanted to see updates to my page and and switched to my real address because I didn’t foresee this problem.