The Digital Disappearing Act
Nowhere to Hide
It’s no secret that we are but a single Google search from prying eyes. It’s alarming how easy it is to search for people on the internet. Likewise, it’s pretty alarming how much information exists about us (see: me) on the internet, as well.
In fact, it’s not too difficult to create an entire profile of someone (see: me) with just a handful of searches. Common user names, posts on forums, and the like all help flesh out a person’s digital identity and, if that person isn’t careful, it can make for a pretty gross picture.
Step 1: Cyber Sleuth
It was only a few days ago that I thought to myself: “wow, I get a lot of junk email”. This isn’t “fr33 viagr@, act n0w!!!” e-mail, this is stuff I actually signed up to get! While in the process of uninstalling hordes and hordes of different subscriptions, I began to think more about the full picture of my online identity. If I get this much stuff sent to my personal e-mail account, what sorts of accounts do I have laying around all across the internet? It’s like thousands of pieces of spacejunk — at one time useful, now lost and adrift for some sorry sap to stumble upon.
I have a lot of accounts in a lot of different places and none of them are particularly interesting, certainly not damaging to any degree. In fact, most are just throwaway accounts to sites that I needed for a weekend.
After only about 15 minutes of queries, here is where I found some accounts:
- google buzz
- the bump
- exposure room
- amazing registry
- about about 7 forums
So what’s the big deal?
Fortunately, none of the accounts I found had any embarrassing information tied to it. A few of the forum posts might have made me sound childish, sure, but nothing too crazy. However, I think the more devious, and more likely scenario with having all these accounts under similar names is that you can pretty easily connect the dots and figure out a lot about me.
For instance, hits for wordpress, hardware analysis, and even digg suggest that I may be a fairly technical person. Looking up posts or comments may bring up key words, phrases, or political leanings. Amazing Registry suggests that I am married. On that registry you can probably get the name of my spouse and further extend the web of connections. The bump is a site for expecting mothers, suggesting I have a family as well.
Little of this information is super secret, but it’s quickly becoming people’s jobs to mine this data and determine as much about you as possible. For right now, it’s pretty much for better advertising, but in the near future I wouldn’t be surprised if self-divulged information was nefariously used against us.
The obvious next step is to close most of these accounts. This is something I will cover in more detail in my next post. It’s not about completely closing yourself off from the world of the internet. However, limiting your surface area. That is, limit the accounts you have open to the ones you actually use. This, along with some other clever tactics can ensure you have greater control of your online identity.