This week I upgraded my desktop to Windows 7 and Office 2010. My laptop has been running both for about 2 months, but I finally broke down and installed it on the desktop. Don’t think it was because I have a problem with 7 or 2010. On the contrary, I love them both…they’ve reignited a passion for PC computing that I was lacking in the post-Vista world. No, it was merely the huge pain it takes to rebuild your PC exactly the way you like it after wiping the OS. Four days later and I’m just getting settled in.
But one thing that I let fall to the side in my months of Office 2010 use was the Outlook Social Connector. It’s this handy little tool that will interface your Outlook connections with your Facebook and LinkedIn connections (and MySpace and others, depending on who makes a plugin and if you install it). When I redid my desktop I chose 32-bit Office to support the LinkedIn plugin and gave it a twirl. What I didn’t expect was how creepy it might become.
What the Social Connector does is aggregate all of the Social Media data about a person for you right inside of the Outlook interface. The new People Pane in Outlook is one place where it does this. The People Pane is a section at the bottom of the email preview screen that shows all of the relevant prior email, appointments, and chats with all of the recipients or senders of an email message. So when my business partner sends me an email, I can see his past emails and our past meetings all in one handy place; pretty cool! The Social Connector adds in LinkedIn and Facebook information streams to the People Pane, including…their picture.
When I was pricing out a POS hardware solution for a client this week, I spoke to Dell on their cool OptiPlex 160 line of mini PCs. The sales rep kindly sent me some links via email to go over the features, which was a huge help. But when I opened the People Pane, I saw it not only found his picture from Facebook, it also found his (unprotected) update stream, his LinkedIn profile, and placed all of it right into my Inbox.
Needless to say, it was a bit creepy to find this all here at my fingertips without the sender of the email knowing. After a little digging, I found at least three dozen others on various mailing lists and discussion groups where I’m a member who had wide open Facebook accounts identified by the Social Connector. Even when the account is protected, it shows me their profile picture. Sometimes even several profile pictures if they have a Facebook and a LinkedIn account with profile images designated.
While I don’t think I’ll uninstall this tool from Microsoft, I think maybe limiting the display to only my friends and connections on the various networks might be a good upgrade. Then again, maybe people should learn to secure their accounts so only friends see that information. Or we can follow the Zuckerberg model…I mean, you don’t have anything to hide, do you?