I'm Salim Virani. I used to design peer learning programs, and these days I'm having fun building stuff.

Thanks but it’s not my birthday, Facebook.
Jun 1, 2016

I gave Facebook the wrong birthday, and set my privacy settings to not share it. Guess what?

One of my first jobs was in a call center for a mobile network upstart in Canada, where I would run credit checks on new customers. It was the late 90’s and Hong Kong millionaires set the best examples, with low-limit gold cards that they paid on time, every time. Then there were the classic deadbeats you could spot a mile off with sub-600 scores. But in some cases, there were people with low scores who were good for it. They’d been screwed by a phone company or a bank over a couple hundred bucks that they clearly could afford (and often had paid on time), but the automated systems failed, and simply reported them as delinquent.

“They said they fixed that in their computer system.” Nope. Credit score tanked.

And don’t get me started on the number of identity thieves I dealt with personally. Your birthday was and probably is - a stupidly easy key to access your identity.

Later, I was a department director at a direct marketing agency, where we had to work with databases with multiple records of the same customers. I learned why big companies never have a single record of your account. We were paid by a few of Canada’s banks to help them with this, and I was surprised at their rudimentary methods. In most cases, if the banking department had your middle name but the credit card department didn’t, they’d think you were two different people. An in-house solution was birthday plus last name plus the first two letters of your first name. Of course, this lead to combining two different people into one profile. We sold more sophisticated solutions. Often unsuccessfully.

So when Facebook asked me for my birthdate, I knew the danger. And besides, why would Facebook really need it? To tell my friends? Well, I’m not really a big birthday guy, so it’s really not worth it. But as some point, Facebook insisted, so I gave it a different date. I know how Facebook leaks personal information to apps, so I didn’t trust it.

And there was this handly privacy setting, so my birthdate wouldn’t be revealed to my friends.

Today is my fake Facebook birthday, and even though I haven’t been on Facebook for a year, I still get the trickle through of happy birthday wishes.

It likely found it’s way out of Facebook because of Facebook’s history of offering privacy settings, and then later changing their policy (which Facebook users automatically agree to) and then overriding user’s settings accordingly.

So I asked Facebook explicitly not to reveal my birthday information, but it did anyway.

Not so cool. But thanks anyway for my unbirthday. It’s been nice catching up with my friends today.

What am I up to these days?

I’m working on a communication tool for loose community groups and unconference-style interactions. It focuses on individual autonomy rather than top-down coordination.

I recently became a Kernel fellow, where I was exploring models for self-directing communities of care, the history of economic cultural norms, and the connection between mimicry, memes and our sense of belonging.

I did a few advisory gigs too - for Polygon, Limechain and Bankless on education and support programs.

In the past, I designed peer learning programs for Oxford, UCL, Techstars, Microsoft Ventures and The Royal Academy Of Engineering. I also played a role in creating the Lean Startup methodology, and the European startup ecosystem. You can read about this here.

Projects

  • Cuppa - decentralised collaboration protocol (WIP)
  • Nonfungo - completely on-chain NFT sale notification bot for Discord. (Look ma! No Opensea API!)
  • Powerplays - real-time token launches

Books

  • Peer Learning Is - a broad look at peer learning around the world, and how to design peer learning to outperform traditional education
  • Mentor Impact - researched the practices used by the startup mentors that really make a difference

Collected practices

  • Source Institute - skunkworks I founded with open peer learning formats and ops guides, and our internal guide on decentralised teams
  • DAOistry - practices and mindsets that work in blockchain communities
  • Decision Hacks - early-stage startup decisions distilled