A funny thing happened on the way to a birthday greeting

For privacy purposes, I told Facebook I was born on January 1. Now I'm getting deluged with happy birthday messages.

Happy New Year, everyone.

And according to some very unexpected messages I got today, it seems it's also my birthday.

Which is strange, because unless my parents were lying to me, I believe I was born in November. Yet, when I finally woke up today and checked in with the Internets, I found eight messages waiting for me, wishing me a happy birthday.

The first actually came yesterday afternoon before 6 p.m. my time, and it was from a former CNET News colleague. I was confused, but thought that perhaps it was a birthday message that got lost in a wormhole back in November and finally figured out how to find its way through the Tubes to my inbox. These things happen.

But the sign that something odd was truly happening came today when, in my e-mail in-box there was a message posted from a friend to a list I'm on, also wishing me a happy birthday.

This got me wondering. The first message, from the former co-worker, had actually been delivered via Facebook. And then, when I checked my e-mail again just now, there were notes informing me that six friends on Facebook had written on my wall, all wishing me, well, you know.

The topper, finally, was the note I found when I logged into Facebook, from the Facebook "team."

This birthday greeting was waiting for me on Facebook today. The only thing is, it's not my birthday. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

By now, I knew what was going on. When I signed up for Facebook, I entered my birthday, as I often do on Web sites that ask for it, as January 1. I do that because it's easy for me to remember, because it's sort of close to my real birthday, and most importantly, because there's no way I'm giving a Web site my real birthday.

Hello! Identity theft, anyone?

In the past, this has never come back to me in any way. To be sure, I know that by submitting a false birthday, I'm probably violating sites' terms of service, and now maybe I'll be kicked off Facebook. But still, I value my privacy and have no intention of revealing a piece of information that is very useful to anyone wishing to do harm with it.

Then again, there's all these wonderful friends -- not to mention the Facebook team -- who were nice enough to notice it is my "birthday" today. What to do about them?

Well, I guess the answer is to out myself, and say that this is a totally unexpected artifact of my attempt to maintain some privacy while also using Web sites that want to leverage the use of my personal data. And yours, of course.

I've always wondered why sites like Facebook need to know my birthday, and my uninformed answer was a combination of security and micro-targeting.

And in most cases, it's never come up. But with a site like Facebook, where the social factor in things like this come to the fore, it obviously does come up, and it makes me wonder. Do most people put in their real birthday? Don't they worry about the consequences? Or maybe there aren't really any consequences. It's not, after all, as though giving out your birthday is the same as revealing your Social Security number or your mother's maiden name.

But with so many of these birthday messages today, I guess I'm seeing that that little piece of information does have a social purpose. Will that get me to change it (assuming Facebook doesn't kick me off for lying)? Not a chance.

I mean, hey, how else can you get people to celebrate your birthday twice a year? I'll take my presents now please.

 

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