Saturday, March 03, 2007

Now I Catch People (Catch Me If You Can - Part 3)

The two posts (part1 and part2) on Internet Privacy did not generate any valuable comments. Either the site Webstats counter has been bluffing me or the posts were unable to convey the gravity of situation and elicit reaction/response.

I did demo runs on two friends to bring the point home. They were shocked, to say the least, at the content I could extract about them.

Guy #1 has much more online activities. His Yahoo id lead to some posts on forums and to his blog. He writes the blog with another pseudonym. The second pseudonym lead to even more tracks into his web activities. The amazing part is that the second pseudonym lead to the discovery of a third pseudonym! The fun was getting better but by this time the guy was too shocked to take in any more info discovered on him.

Guy #2 challenged that I do not have an entry point to make searches on him. I don’t have his Yahoo id and he was “not willing” to tell me the same after reading my posts. (Maybe I can take some credit that he actually felt some credence in the threat. :D ) The problem was solved in jiffy. When guy#2 joined the course with me, the Dean had sent out a common mail to the new entrants welcoming them to the institute. All of us were resgistered in the database through our personal email ids. Guy#2 was registered with his yahoo id. And the rest they say is history :) . I shocked him first by revealing his ‘guarded’ yahoo id and then went ahead to dump on him his online activities.

The two instances were also an eye-opener for me. I had earlier thought that my friend (mentioned in part1 post) was able to discover information about his old flame as he was adamant to do it and spent too much time on this. However, my demos were carried out in just 10-15 min and they were quite successful. They key points in success were:

  1. Knowing the right keyword (unique identity) to search for.
  2. Availability of excellent search functionalities (I used Google for web and mail search)
  3. Sifting through the search results and focusing on the ones which help in further exploration. E.g. blog entries, yahoo group messages
  4. Identifying alternate identities of the same person
  5. Intuition
  6. Luck

Another person questioned that what it is that is making so paranoid? What harm can anyone do by knowing all this? Moreover, it is we who chose to give out this info on public domain.

My arguments are:

  1. This phenomenon deprives you from the control on what information you keep online.
  2. As the search engine caches the pages in many cases, you can’t delete the information even if you want.
  3. You may want to keep some info online for some people but not want others to see it. Unless you have a password access mechanism, your best bet is to protect the URL. If a person you don’t want accessing this info gets hold of the relevant URL against your wishes, the purpose of your discretion is lost.

If you are still skeptic about this, allow me a personal demo.

Update #1: 03/03/2007

Abhyuadaya points out:

"Personally, I run search on my own names and usernames every now and then and if I find something that I wont like, I submit to Google to remove those pages from its index."

I am not sure of how effective this is but its worth a try. However, we can't request ALL the search engines out there to do the same. Neither will they have resources to comply with our request.

1 comment:

Abhy said...

It sure is an issue worth consideration. Moreso, because most of us are unsuspecting internet users who dont think of the consequences.

I have run such "searches" myself on many people and it does throw up interesting info.

But, then as you rightly identify its a trade-off between effortless expression on this medium and privacy! While the choice is ours, it is good to be aware of the trade-off.