OK, this is a little off topic for me but the subject came up at work so I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts about internet privacy and all the little ways you might be letting your details slip out without even realising it.
Why do you care?
“Well who cares if people see a bit of personal info, what are they going to do?” Most people arn’t famous or interesting enough for a stalker so what harm does it do to share? Well I can think of one major reason why the average person should be cautious: MONEY!
If I was a burglar I’d totally be tuned into the net and it looks as though they really do. Think about it, if you know someone’s home will be empty for two weeks while they are away you’ve much less chance of getting busted, they can even case the joint with google street view. And how many of us photographers getting excited about our trip either tweet or blog about it while we’re away? The guys from pleaserobme.com knew that when they created their website to highlight this very issue. If you are really unlucky your insurance premiums might go up. The only saving grace for us photographers is – we don’t travel light… we take most of our expensive gear on holiday with us! Laptops, cameras etc.
Also, bank theft. How safe is your money? Think about it, what security questions does your bank put on your account and just how easy is it to google for those answers now? Mother’s maiden name? Birthday? Address? First pet? If you have telephone banking for example and forget your 27bazillion digit code (as everyone does) what questions do they ask to verify its you? You should try googling yourself to see if you can find the answers to your security questions.
How can you stop?
So where are we all allegedly sharing all this personal information? Any of these sites sound familiar?
- Flickr/Twitpic/other image sites
- Your own website?
A lot has been written about facebook privacy settings over the recent months (years?) so I wont go into that too much, but if you are interested check out the scary trend of the default privacy settings in facebook to allow your private data to be public with this chart… http://mattmckeon.com/facebook-privacy/ And definitely make a point of checking your privacy settings regularly . Facebook has got to be the first point of call for any information harvester just for the sheer volume of personal information that people share. Email addresses, other sites you belong to (to further harvest for info), likes and dislikes (which make great guessing information for passwords), where you went to school, what you do for a job. Don’t get me wrong, I like facebook, I’ve reconnected with loads of old friends and can easily keep in touch with new ones however even though I have adjusted my security settings to a level I’m happy with, stories like these don’t inspire confidence that any data on there could be kept private for long: http://www.metro.co.uk/tech/824782-facebook-chat-taken-down-over-major-security-flaw
Edit: after writing this post I saw this article about the more recent failings of facebook privacy… http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2010/05/facebook-rogue lots of things I didn’t know in there – very scary stuff! And this… about facebook integrating across the web: http://www.pbs.org/kcet/tavissmiley/voices/2010/05/facebook-across-the-web-how-creepy.html
Twitter is such a simple premise. Everything is public (apart from DMs but it only takes one security hole to happen). Just remember that and be careful what you tweet. Its easy to get sucked into a conversation and believe that no one else is listening. Now that google searching twitter too you never know whos watching.
Flickr & twitpic / other image hosting sites are great but remember, if you take a snap of your front room what else is in the photo? In the background are you showing everyone what is in your house? Also, many images are now geo-tagged automagically by your camera or phone (this means all the exact location information is stored inside the picture and can be picked out by websites such as google maps). So if you use your iphone to photo everything then upload to the net immediately, you are essentially telling everyone where you are and what you are looking at right now! I think that feature can be turned off though.
Your own website/blog is completely in your control right? You have a contact form rather than an email address to keep you safe from the evil spammers? Well what about the whois information from your website domain? Whats that? Well, you can potentially get the name, address, phone number and email address of the owner just by looking up the whois on the website. Go on do it now…. http://www.whois.net/ lookup your domain and see what info it gives you. With .co.uk sites you can almost always opt out of whois within your domian settings (meaning it displays the details of the company who you bought your web domain from). For .coms only some web hosters provide that opt out service (and some charge for it), it’s worth transferring your domain to someone who’ll protect your privacy for you (I use nameguard.co.uk).
For an interesting article on location based privacy (and some scary questions for the future) check this link out: http://www.eff.org/wp/locational-privacy
“Locational privacy is also about knowing when other people know things about you, and being able to tell when they are making decisions based on those facts.”
Batten down the hatches of your privacy leaks (that I mention above) and ask these three questions when writing anything online.
1. Will my mother read this?
2. Will my current or a future employer read this?
3. Am I writing because I have something to say or do I just have too much time on my hands? And blog after the fact to update the world of your doings…