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Monday, April 10th, 2006

Research Yourself

On a recent post I casually mentioned that it was a good idea to search your own name in the Internet search engines every so often, so you can find out what’s out there about you and available to all. You want to do at least the top three – Google, Yahoo, and MSN.

Coincidentally, that point was made for me earlier today when I was reviewing my site visits and I saw a hit from Google using the name of an old boss and the company he still works for. Because I thought he would be interested, and just to catch up with him, I gave him a call to let him know. I had checked myself, and if you Googled the name of his company and his name, my site came out on top of the list. The original searcher must have been disappointed, because that wasn’t much else to find, and my hit was only a casual reference. A few hours later, someone entered exactly the same search terms from a different geographic location, so I figure it was Pete checking out what I had told him. Funny, I never would have pegged him for an Apple man.

One other thing I did tonight was check the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse website. Maybe all this stuff had gotten under my skin, but I was also checking to see if they’d put up an RSS feed yet. About a week or so ago I had corresponded with Beth Givens, the founder and director of that great organization, to ask her if they had any plans on putting up a feed, and she had seemed very interested. I really like their Alerts page, but I’d like to be able to catch anything new right away. I subscribe to feeds from EPIC, EFF, Privacy.org and DRM News that I check every day, and I’d like to add PRC to the list. While I was there, I saw an even better and more complete recommendation for checking readily available information on yourself. PRC recommends checking your credit history, medical records, bank account history, insurance claims, and public records in addition to search engines, and provides links for doing so. Yep – all this stuff is out there for the taking, and that doesn’t even begin to cover what the private data miners know about you! I went over to Slashdot to find a good recent article on those trolls, but there were so many about data mining, identity theft, phishing, and stupid government and civilian blunders revealing private information, you may as well go over and read them yourself if you’re interested.

All of this led to a must-post moment. I know I keep bringing this up, but my interest in personal privacy was born in the early eighties when I did a little bit of hacking myself and found out how easy it was, and knew then just how much easier it was going to get. Not so long ago, a friend of mine went missing and we were worried about whether he was lying dead in a ditch somewhere, and it only took me a couple of hours to find his bank account and social security numbers, and with that I was able to find his most recent ATM transactions and find out generally where he was, and I knew he was ok. He had just wanted some time to himself, but I think that I shouldn’t have been able to do what I did, and I only did it out of real concern.

But I know I’m picking a losing side. Government and private institutions just can’t keep pace with technology; and regulations, like gun laws, mean that only the bad guys will have access. I just hope, forlornly I’m afraid, that social acceptance of our personal peccadillos will follow at a rapid pace behind, because it’s not just how much we make and what we owe and own that is becoming knowable, it’s intimate details, like a credit card purchase in an adult bookstore, a cell phone call from a place you weren’t supposed to be, and what you were talking to that therapist about that is being compiled, archived, and available.

Oh – and by the way, folks – if you don’t want me to see every time you drop by, what pages you read, and how long you spend doing it, try subscribing to my feed. You can just click on the Bloglines or Feedburner images in my right sidebar. It’s been a long time, but I think if you don’t already have an account, they’ll start one up for you. Or, if you’re using Firefox, just add me as a live bookmark.

Posted by Greg as Society at 23:47 PST

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