Fake Steve Jobs Hunt Takes Creepy Turn

    July 20, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

It has elements of mystery, the tenets of paparazzi defense, and the feeling of a prank gone too far. In a blogosphere-wide attempt to unmask blogebrity – well, it may not be an exaggeration to call him/her a cyber cult leader – Fake Steve Jobs, digital espionage has turned a fun cat-and-mouse game into something Fake Steve calls "creepy."

In the past year, even Bill Gates and Apple CEO Steve Jobs himself have tuned into The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, authored by FSJ, for the witty, insightful, and oftentimes biting commentary.

Meanwhile, in other places on the Net, the mystery of who this author might be has been a titillating one, with theory after theory proposed and then discredited or stamped with a "maybe."

Well known writer about "all things Mac," Andy Ihnatko, with a sense of humor and writing style similar to FSJ’s, has been a crowd favorite. In an IM interview with Valleywag, Ihnatko would neither confirm or deny that he was the Fake Steve Jobs, claiming an ambiguous answer was safer…well, it’s hard to explain the logic, so we’ll just quote him:

If I’m him, I have plenty of reasons to throw you off the scent. If I’m not, I have plenty of reasons to try to convince you that I’m not…Either way, my motive would be to convince you I’m not FSJ, which would only lead folks to assume that my answers prove their belief (whatever it is)…So — again, whether I am FSJ or I’m not — the only real "win" in this situation is to neither confirm nor deny.

Which of course makes him sound guilty, thus proving his point in an MC Escher kind of way.

Whether or not he is or isn’t, directly asking him if he is, or speculating aloud, doesn’t violate any moral or civil codes. The online manhunt, though, took a nasty turn. At Sitening.com, Tyler Hall admits to a little trickery at the FSJ’s expense.

They created a joke website dedicated to iPhone haikus, and sent FSJ a bugged link that allowed them to track his IP address from referrer logs. Hall traced the address back to the Boston area, confirming for some that FSJ was indeed Ihnatko, who works out of Boston.

But whoever FSJ is, he wasn’t happy about it:

[I]t sort of almost makes a person begin to fear for the safety of himself and the people around him. It’s creepy. It’s gross. It’s wrong.

To whatever bit of pond scum is doing this stuff, let me say this: This was fun, up to a point. You’ve gone past that point. Stop.

That was enough for Tuaw.com’s Mike Schramm, who had been gleefully participating in the hunt. Schramm responded to reader response pleading that the desire for anonymity should be respected. Tuaw pledged to not write anymore speculation about it, as "FSJ is much more fun as FSJ himself."

From Fake Steve Jobs’s post, he’s been in discussions with attorneys to determine the legality of what Sitening.com did, and how much, if any, protection is afforded to his privacy.

And that won’t be a question easy to answer. IP addresses, and things on the Web in general, might be considered akin to public space and/or public information. Paparazzi can do what they do because of First Amendment protections of the press – you can take a picture of anything in public.

Phone numbers that are listed in phone books have been sore spots for Internet privacy advocates too, for even though numbers are public information, most don’t want their phone numbers available to people outside of their local areas. A Texan Digg.com user is debating this point with the Michigan police currently.

But IP addresses are not necessarily proof of anything either, even if the RIAA likes to say so in court.

Regardless, chalk this case up to just one more Internet privacy debate to be ironed out in the future, and an illustration of how dangerous the so-called "wisdom of crowds" can be.