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 but my experience with most people (teenagers, college students, young professionals, housewives etc.) shows that they do this for the sake of doing it – to follow the norm without knowing its implications or simply they don’t realize that gratuitously publishing personal information on the web (pictures, comments, messages etc.) stays on the web 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 to refer “everything” available on the internet as Public Information because I believe this information still belongs to the one who chooses to have it on the internet).

With search engines as powerful as Google and Yahoo, we can find anything about anything and also almost anything about anyone…just type a name of someone on any search engine and if that someone 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 that someone 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 of research assignments. One technique I used to use to dig deep into the topic is joining links to find more links about the topic. Just to see how this technique works to find someone’s personal information I typed in a name (of someone I knew has some internet presence but didn’t know anything about that person’s personal life before that) on Google and found this person’s name on blogs, forums and on a High School’sStudent Society link. I googled the high school name along with that person’s name and I bumped into the High School’s Prom website posted and hosted by some other student. I typed in the student’s name with that person’s name and I stumbled upon their wedding website…oops! So now 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 much internetnal that by collecting different pieces of information from different links and sources (just like I did in the example above),anyone can easily create or compile our persona and that may be the fact 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 private is their Social Insurance Number(in US Social Security Number), or bank or credit card information but cyber stalkers and cyber bullies are least interested in this (this information is mostly appealed to identity thieves… a completely different topic). To me any information that can identify me or 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 your information and invade your privacy to harm you. The easier it is to invade someone’s privacy, the harder it is to keep your anonymity. Any website 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, we can 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 … obviously what’s the use of having a screen name if it’s used so extravagantly with your real name (first or last or even worst both!). Check out frequently if your real name is listed with your screen name on any web directories.
• Check your Facebook public page, it’s not just yours, you are making some of your friends public (internetnal) too. BTW, is there a setting in Facebook, where you can choose that your public profile should just show your name and picture (just like Linkedin) and not your contact sand friends? Most of you may remember that about six months ago when you go to a Facebook profile using google, the facebook page used to update contacts each time you refresh the page or even when you use the browser back button to switch from one contact to another… hence divulging your whole network. Thankfully, it does not happen anymore. I believe 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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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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