Reader, have you ever wondered what it's like to be a billionaire? Having ungodly amounts of cash at your fingertips? Millions of fans applauding your every move in an attempt to get a cut of your fortune? Spending your wealth on multi-million dollar properties, luxury cars, and philanthropic efforts of your choice?
While technology reporter Louise Matsakis is probably not a billionaire (sorry, girl!), she, due to the wrath of the Gods that conjure Google's algorithm, has been granted more than a small peek inside the lives of the filthy rich. For over a year, Google's algorithm has listed her phone number, email address, information as that for Jeff Bezos, his ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott (formerly known as MacKenzie Bezos), and even TikTok customer support, meaning she's fielded more than 1,000 texts, calls, and emails meant for billionaires and big corporations.
So how did this tale of digital woe come to be? About a year ago, Matsakis wrote an article detailing MacKenzie Scott's pledge to give away half of her $36 billion fortune in the context of how digital philanthropy can fail (a fascinating read, if you're into that kind of thing). At the end of the article, she included her contact information, as is standard practice at some news publications, allowing readers to send along feedback and tips for future stories. Now, here is where things start to go awry.
"Since MacKenzie's name was in the article, Google began pulling the paragraph with my information as though it was hers," Matsakis wrote in "The Year the Internet Thought I was MacKenzie Bezos." "If you searched for 'MacKenzie Bezos phone number,' 'MacKenzie Bezos contact' or something similar on Google, my email address and phone number were likely to show up at the top of the results, prominently displayed in a standalone box the company calls a 'featured snippet.'" (Oh Google, you and your infallible algorithmic choices ... )
Not long after the article was published, she opened her inbox to see a strange surprise -- an "avalanche" of messages meant for the billionaire, spanning from marriage proposals, a self-described 30-year-old from Korea asking for a Porsche, and several business propositions. A common trend in all of these correspondences, according to Matsakis? Asking for money.
Yet this wasn't just a one-time digital blip. After writing a pretty helpful beginner's guide to TikTok, the popular search engine started spitting her contact information out as the app's customer support. Earlier this year, she says she received an onslaught of messages meant for Jeff Bezos, a trend she says likely came from a piece detailing the Amazon CEO's pledge of $10 billion to fight climate change from February.
"I've asked Google to fix this issue many times, to no avail," she wrote, seemingly not at all exasperated. "So now, I'm giving up. Today is my last day at WIRED, and as a result, the email address Google is surfacing will soon be out of commission. I plan to deactivate the phone number -- a Google Voice number, coincidentally -- as well," she wrote In her final article for the publication , entitled "I'm Done Being Mistaken for Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott" (aren't we all).
Louise, wherever you are, I applaud your bravery in taking a stand -- proudly asserting that despite Google's popular misconception, you are not Jeff Bezos, MacKenzie Scott, nor TikTok Customer Support. That said, if you ever come into Bezos-level money, you should definitely buy me a Porsche.