Alyson Hannigan’s Online Stalker Gets Three Year Posting Ban


When a New Hampshire man posted online comments about actress Alyson Hannigan, including threats to kill her and her family, she took the matter to court. The result was a three year restraining order banning him from posting anything online about her or her family and from making any effort to meet her.

The stalker, John Hobbs, apparently agreed to the terms the judge set down. There were no fines, no jail time, just a warning in the form of a restraining order.

Hannigan, known for her roles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, American Pie and How I Met Your Mother, is married to her former Buffy co-star Alexis Denisof. They have two children.

According to this report in The Mary Sue, there had been a temporary restraining order against the man earlier in the year.

Earlier this year, E! News reported Hannigan got a temporary restraining order against a New Hampshire man after he threatened not only her, but her family, online. They write the man “has possessed a pistol permit since 2000 and was recently discharged from a mental hospital.”

Hannigan is married to former Buffy co-star Alexis Denisof and the couple have two girls together. The individual in question posted threats of violence and death on Facebook more than once with one directly mentioning Denisof. In her original filing, Hannigan reported local police visiting the man who “fully acknowledged his interest” in the actress. They say he agree to visit a mental-health clinic but still said he would be traveling to California to find her.

Question: Are Restraining Orders the Answer

The case involving Alyson Hannigan is just one in a long string of similar cases. Sometimes when the identity of the person doing the harassing is revealed, all anyone gets is a public apology. At least in this case, there is a rule of law to provide more clout.

But my question is this: are restraining orders enough in this type of situation? A restraining order is just a piece of paper. It provides no physical restraint. Should there be more? Should there be fines, jail sentences, required mental health counseling? Should stalkers be put on probation and required to wear ankle bracelets so that police can track their location at all times?

At the very least, couldn’t people who threaten others online be deprived of Internet service and a data plan on their cell phone?

We live in a very public world, a very small world. Privacy for anyone, not just celebrities, is more and more an issue. We know women get threatened online just for speaking at conferences or being bloggers. You don’t have to be a well-known celebrity to be threatened in our current online culture of haters, trolls, and crazies. Are legislators and the legal system in step with the current culture, or do we need some changes – fast?

Note: Originally published on BlogHer.

Useful links: forms, css, W3Conf, Glass, Lireo

The Problem of CSS Form Elements is at Smashing Magazine.

Seven Things Still Missing from CSS at .net magazine.

Video from the recent W3Conf are available on YouTube.

The Google Glass Feature No One is Talking About. Is Google becoming Big Brother?

Lerio Designs has blog posts with weekly roundups of web design and development resources that is excellent and worth subscribing to.

Useful links: Foursquare, Design details, Crowdsourcing a book (Video)

Foursquare users may want to check their privacy settings. I wrote all about it on BlogHer.

40 Excellent Examples of Attention to Details that Fill Us with Delight. It’s the little things that make a difference. From Betterment.

I know Guy Kawasaki is a huge name in the social media business, and this method would not apply to a relative unknown. But I find it fascinating that he did this and that it worked so well.

Useful links: subline element, my name is me, Quora

Steve Faulkner suggests another addition to the HTML5 spec in the form of a subline element.

My Name is Me is a site that supports people’s desire to use a pseudonym online.

What’s Wrong with Quora? is Jon Evans question. He states his opinions, but for me Quora fails because it is too slow, too obtuse, and too difficult to track. I don’t go to Quora for anything. It isn’t worth the effort.

Have you Googled a person by name lately?

Google search results have changed if you search for a person by name. Here’s an example, using Elisa Camahort Page as the guinea pig. (I thought about using myself, but Google recognizes me and urges me to complete my profile. Someone else is a better example.)

You have two views, with personal results showing, and with personal results hidden. If the person has a profile on Google+, the personal results are from their Google profile. Here are views of Elisa Camahort Page with and without personal results.

with personal information

You can see that the personal results are something like a social media result rather than a search result. The top search result is BlogHer either way, but the next results are different with and without personal results.

How about a celebrity? I searched on actor and artist Laurel Holloman, who does not have a Google+ profile or her own web site. Her personal results came from Wikipedia, followed by IMDB. There were lots of images and mention of her movies and TV shows.

Google wasn’t just linking to every web page that mentioned either Elisa or Laurel. It was providing results that were rather intelligent in that they related specifically to the person. Out of all the web pages, in all the world, where the two of them might be mentioned and indexed, it picked really relevant results and images.

I know you’ve Googled your own name in the past; do it again now and take a look at the difference in what you see. It isn’t just a million links in willy-nilly order. It’s an intelligent collection of links that tell a lot about you in the first page of results. Big Brother is watching.


Useful links: BioWare, targeted ads, headers on Twitter, Coursera

BioWare Co-Founders step down. Gaming has been good to these two, who are retiring from the company they founded to do other things.

Rob Weychert used his turn on The Pastry Box Project this month to talk about Hulu advertising and how it is supposed to be tailored to individual interests but fails at the task. Makes me think about how Klout is often spectacularly wrong about your influence or how Facebook shows you ads for things you absolutely hate.

Guess you heard the news that Twitter is now using a header image something like Facebook’s big one. I already changed mine to something similar to what I use on this blog. You’ll find the option in Settings > Design and then scroll down the page to find Header.

Coursera is growing. If you are an educator, you need to be keeping an eye on it and what it means.

A Privacy Win

Transparency is everything in the world of ones and zeros where data can be collected and used in hidden ways for not-always-helpful purposes. Sometimes revealing what an app is actually capable of doing – is doing – with your data results in a happy ending.

girls around me screen capture
Girls Around Me screen capture

The story starts with Cult of Mac revealing the truth about an app in This Creepy App Isn’t Just Stalking Women Without Their Knowledge, It’s A Wake-Up Call About Facebook Privacy. The app is called Girls Around Me. You should read the full story for yourself, it has several screen captures of interest. I’ll give you a highly abridged version. Girls Around Me gives you a map showing where girls are nearby. These are women who checked into locations using Foursquare. Based on that, the app shows their Facebook profile image, tells private details about likes, friends names, jobs and more. The story concluced with tips about how to manage privacy settings.

Creepy is right.

The Cult of Mac story was so creepy that it garnered a lot of public attention. That’s where the good part of the story begins, a turn of events that we can thank Cult of Mac for igniting. (Or, more precisely, we should thank the girlfiend of the writer John Brownlee at Cult of Mac for insisting he write about Girls Around Me.)

Tech Crunch publicized the story in “Girls Around Me” Creeper App Just Might Get People To Pay Attention To Privacy Settings. The story at TechCruch focused on the privacy settings issue, but ended with a short but important update:

Foursquare has reached out to say that the app was in violation of their API policy, so they’ve revoked access. I feel safer already!

Kudos to Foursquare, right?

But that isn’t the end of the story. The Sydney Morning Herald in ‘Stalker’ app pulled after ‘tool for rapists’ outcry, tells us,

An iPhone app that in effect allowed users to stalk women nearby using location-based social networking service Foursquare has been pulled from the iTunes app store by its developer after an outcry.

According to The Wall Street Journal’s ‘Girls Around Me’ Developer Defends App After Foursquare Dismissal, the app is useless without Foursquare integration, which is why it was pulled from the app store. The creators of the app, a Russian company called i-Free Innovations defended the app to the WSJ, calling it,

. . . “unethical to pick a scapegoat to talk about the privacy concerns. We see this wave of negative as a serious misunderstanding of the apps’ goals, purpose, abilities and restrictions.”

You can read the I-Free developers’ full statement in The Wall Street Journal’s story. Even though Girls Around Me is no longer available in the app store, it had already been downloaded 70,000 times. Those versions should not work now because Foursquare cut off access.

We Won One

Privacy for women won this one. Yea.

Yet we still have to struggle weekly with protecting our privacy online, with changing settings in Facebook and in apps, with constant vigilance to protect our vulnerability.

One victory isn’t enough. How can we use the momentum of this victory to create changes that will be more useful and long lasting?

Note: This story is cross-posted at BlogHer.