Stalking The Predators

posted by alex

Eric and I are currently down at the disneyland of the tech world–Google. We are just about to check out a techtalk by Will Wright on Spore but I thought I’d post a few reflections that surfaced during yesterday’s meeting with Professor BJ Fogg and David Danielsson from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab.

We were talking about establishing online trust when BJ had this interesting idea for a slightly unorthodox case study approach. Instead of trying to look at desirable mechanics of trust online (how trust can enhance the online experience) we could flip the whole concept around and learn about the same things by looking at the people who maliciously deal with establishing trust as a profession–I am, of course, talking about the predators.

Predators are probably the most well-educated in the mechanics of establishing trust online since their whole agenda deeply depends on it. Myspace predators constantly seek to establish trust as fast as possible and are sure to know the ins and outs of trust-enhancing social interaction within that system. To exploit a system, technical or social, you really have to know how to “work it”.

Now, what I have been thinking about is how to get in contact with serious predators and get insight into their tactics and views on their “work”. One idea I had after talking to Mike Micucci, CEO of TN20 and hearing about his problems concerning the scam-proposals put forward to him when selling his car on eBay would be to create an online potential victim. I could create a fake ad for an expensive car, add a made-up person to Myspace, enter a non-existing CEO on LinkedIn and then wait for scammers to contact me. Once contact has been established I could “come clean”, explain the research and try to start a conversation with the intention of getting their comments on trust. Am I being naive in thinking this might yield some results?

Yet, on the other hand, the whole idea of faking identities and ads makes me feel slightly uneasy. Is this an ethical way of finding interview subjects? Is it safe? Let me know what you think!