Quite the hottie, isn’t she? That’s “Rita Wilson” pictured below, and we didn’t think twice about adding her as a Facebook friend when she sent us a request a while back. We figured we’d find out later who she was, but we were wrong. She doesn’t answer e-mail queries, and Googling the name brings up only the actress Rita Wilson who is married to Tom Hanks. This Rita Wilson’s Facebook biography says she lives in San Francisco. Because we lived there ourselves for more than 20 years, we thought that maybe there was a connection through some mutual friend or acquaintance. Alas, as far as we’ve been able to determine, Rita Wilson doesn’t exist in the flesh. Rather, she appears to have been concocted by some PR firm tasked with hyping the shares of publicly traded companies.
This wasn’t so obvious to us at first, since Rita’s long list of Facebook friends comprises actual people from all over the world – people with eclectic interests and quirky things to say. There’s Claire Louise Hay, for one, who wonders why her fish have been going haywire: “Why [do] my barb fish have such a life-defeating reaction to stress? When startled, they leap out of the water, usually hitting the lid, but sometimes hitting the kitchen surface or the floor. It’s a wonder they’re not extinct.” This is not the kind of stuff you can make up, even if Rita Wilson is.
Rita’s Corporate ‘Likes’
As the weeks went by, however, the ever-expanding list of “Likes and Interests” linked from Rita’s Facebook page began to look more and more like the client list of a public relations firm. Many of the companies are based in China, mainly in energy and resource-related businesses, but there are also some American firms, including Dreamworks and a Los Angeles Chevy dealer. The list has been growing by the week, so one can only surmise that Rita has been producing results for her clients. She even knows to flash a “Stop Your Tinnitus” ad at us when we visit her Facebook page. The condition has plagued us for years, but it’s a little creepy to think that Rita somehow knew about this.
Lately, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has come under fire for trashing members’ privacy online. Amidst all of the controversy, the point appears to have been lost that Facebook exists solely to collect information on all of us that it can peddle to advertisers and retailers. With the emergence of Rita Wilson, however, and who-knows-how-many other cyberagents like her to siphon up consumer data, the insidiousness of Zuckerberg’s business model has been laid bare. It seems likely that he will be forced to retreat all the way on this issue. It should be interesting to see whether Facebook can survive if the company is unable to fulfill its primary mission of finding out all that can possibly be known about its members’ shopping habits. (Update: I awoke Monday morning to discover that I had been de-Friended by “Rita”.)
(If you’d like to have Rick’s Picks commentary delivered free each day to your e-mail box, click here.)