You are on Google – You are Internetnal!

I am not on Facebook, MySpace or even on Linkedin and I don’t know how to tweet on the Twitter.It’s of course a matter of personal preference to join online clubs,forums, networking sites, publish/post pictures, videos on the net butmy experience with most people (teenagers, college students, youngprofessionals, housewives etc.) shows that they do this for the sake ofdoing it - to follow the norm without knowing its implications orsimply they don’t realize that gratuitously publishing personalinformation on the web (pictures, comments, messages etc.) stays on theweb forever. Once your information passes the internet cloud, it’s no more personal…it is now hooked up to the internet and becomes internetnal(couldn’t find a better term so came up with my own. I don’t like torefer “everything” available on the internet as Public Informationbecause I believe this information still belongs to the one who choosesto have it on the internet).

With search engines as powerful as Google and Yahoo,we can find anything about anything and also almost anything aboutanyone…just type a name of someone on any search engine and if thatsomeone has ever participated in a forum, posted an online comment,published a blogpost, joined a social networking group (Linkedin,Facebook, Twitter, Hi5etc.), you would know where that someone is working or/and who thatsomeone is friends with or/and can that someone be twittered around.While in iSchool - University of Toronto,I covered many topics on Online Information Retrieval, Human ComputerInteractions, Information and its Social Context etc. and did a lot ofresearch assignments. One technique I used to use to dig deep into thetopic is joining links to find more links about the topic. Just to seehow this technique works to find someone’s personal information I typedin a name (of someone I knew has some internet presence but didn’t knowanything about that person’s personal life before that) on Google andfound this person’s name on blogs, forums and on a High School’sStudent Society link. I googled the high school name along with thatperson’s name and I bumped into the High School’s Prom website postedand hosted by some other student. I typed in the student’s name withthat person’s name and I stumbled upon their wedding website…oops! Sonow I know who that person’s spouse is. Then I googled spouse’s name …and it went on and on and on … and that’s when I said, You are on Google – You are Internetnal!

The point I am trying to make here is we’ve made ourselves so muchinternetnal that by collecting different pieces of information fromdifferent links and sources (just like I did in the example above),anyone can easily create or compile our persona and that may be thefact that we hear so much more about cyber stalking and cyber bullying these days (see statistics: Cyberbullying, Cyberstalking and WomenVictims).Usually, what most people care about and consider personal and privateis their Social Insurance Number(in US Social Security Number), or bankor credit card information but cyber stalkers and cyber bullies areleast interested in this (this information is mostly appealed to identity thieves…acompletely different topic). To me any information that can identify meor is related to me is my personal information. With just three posts on the blogging idol contest, I inadvertently revealed so many things about me…e.g. in this post I made it internetnal that I went to iSchool U of T.  

But being internetnal doesn’t mean anyone can maliciously use yourinformation and invade your privacy to harm you. The easier it is toinvade someone’s privacy, the harder it is to keep your anonymity. Anywebsite we visit keeps a log of visitor’s IP address.Most of the websites record IP addresses with the time stamp. TrackingIP address is probably as easy as tracking your phone number. Yes, wecan use proxy servers to hide IP address but they are sometimes even more risky.

By the way, my favourite website to locate IP addresses is IP Address Location. This website offers a host of options on a single page to find IP address by email, domain name (tied with the whois database, information about DNS, registrar and registrant with address and phone/fax numbers!) and reverse lookups for location and server names.

Here are some tips to improve/check your internetnal image and status:
• Besides googling others, google yourself once in a while!
• Don’t associate your screen name with your real name … obviouslywhat’s the use of having a screen name if it’s used so extravagantlywith your real name (first or last or even worst both!). Check outfrequently if your real name is listed with your screen name on any webdirectories.
• Check your Facebook public page, it’s not just yours, you are makingsome of your friends public (internetnal) too. BTW, is there a settingin Facebook, where you can choose that your public profile should justshow your name and picture (just like Linkedin) and not your contactsand friends? Most of you may remember that about six months ago whenyou go to a Facebook profile using google, the facebook page used toupdate contacts each time you refresh the page or even when you use thebrowser back button to switch from one contact to another… hencedivulging your whole network. Thankfully, it does not happen anymore. Ibelieve that now it just displays the cached content on your computer.It’s very easy to find connections using my technique described above,e.g. usually the same last name infers a family connection!

If you want further reading on the topic, I found some excellent material while researching for this post:
• Privacy and the Internet by Prof. Herman T. Tavani  
• Eight Friends are Enough an excellent study about Facebook public profiles by Cambridge University Computer Laboratory researchers
• A three part blog on Web Anonymity (with a touch of humour!) by engtech

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