Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
What does the Internet know about you?

While I'm battling anonymous trolls on my blog, the BBC is reporting about the opposite problem: an interesting analysis of somebody who put too much information about herself on the internet. Ashley Alexandra Dupre, the prostitute that brought down Eliot Spitzer, had pages on sites like MySpace or, and once she got famous through her connection with the governor of New York, the press was able to get all sorts of information about her, including photos, and publish it. Now she and her lawyers are trying to put the genie back into the bottle with legal action, but that's too late.

Me, I'm afraid of offering too much private information of myself on the internet. There is no MySpace page about me, or Facebook, or anything. On this blog I'm not using my real name, and I'm keeping information about myself to a minimum. If I get caught in bed with the governor of New York tomorrow (which is admittedly unlikely), the press won't find photos of me on RateMyBody (I'd be afraid of the rating anyway) or the story of my life posted anywhere. The worst they could find would be this blog, leading to the obvious "he plays video games, he must be a mass murderer" conclusion. :)

But others, including my readers, aren't that careful. Half of the e-mails I get are from people using their real name, and a good number are using their company e-mail system to send it. The one that cracked me up most was the one to which the company mail system had automatically attached a request to comment on my satisfaction with the guy's mail to his manager, linking the manager's mail address (Don't worry, I didn't reply). If I know your real name, what info can I find about you on sites like MySpace or Facebook? I googled my real name and to my satisfaction there are other people who have the same name as I do, and they come up higher in Google. So if your name is relatively common, you might preserve some anonymity that way. But other than that your MySpace page is only anonymous as long as nobody looks for it.
What's even more awesome, is that "Girls Gone Wild"'s CEO offered her 1 million dollars for a non-nude spread in thier new magazine. That is, until they checked thier books and found out she had been in Girls Gone Wild 3 times before :D Saved him a cool million.
It is truly stunning how much information people post about themselves. People I've gamed with, googling their character's screen name has revealed real names, addresses, phone numbers, friends' names, photos, etc etc. Sure you usually get a lot of different hits, but you can easily piece together the puzzle to zero in on the right hit. In one case I found out personal information her husband had been posting to certain "unsavoury" websites that she didn't know about, information that could have led someone reading one of those sites right to their doorstep, and their children. All from the power of Google.

People feel safe in revealing tiny snippets of information .. a first name on this website, a hometown on that forum, a friend's name on a blog. Individually, each of these snippets of information are pretty much useless and really reveal nothing about the person. What they don't think about is the awesome power of information concatenation inherent to computers in general and engines like Google in particular. Each snippet is useless, but Google and a bit of intelligent research reveals enough snippets to sometimes tell far more than the person intended.

I make a habit of occasionally googling my e-mail addresses, my real name, my character names, just to see what gets dragged out to the light of day. If that sounds a bit paranoid, it's because it is LOL.
That's a really interesting topic, actually. One thing you'll notice is that people in my generation (I'm not sure how old you are T, but I'm guessing you've got some years on me) tend to be a LOT looser with their personal information than our older peers.

All of the 20-something people I know have Facebook or MySpace pages, LinkedIn accounts, or blogs of some sort. You almost have to have this stuff to stay in the social loop.

I think having information on the net isn't that big of a deal, but it's going to be increasingly important WHAT information you have on the net. Most people aren't going to be involved in some crazy sex scandal, but you probably still don't want nude pictures of yourself on the internet. Other stuff? Meh. If they have your name, a really resourceful person can get what they want whether you post it or not. But there are other concerns to think about, too.

I like using my real name on my blog, for example, because I like to think it forces me to act professionally and be accountable for what I write. I'd argue that it makes me raise the quality of my writing and communication.
I don't do profile sites for the same reason. Seriously, I don't want every random person being able to find out who exactly my friends are etc. I find it scary how people post everything on the internet, especially the young kids. There are fucking 12 year old girls and boys having profile sites. Those profile sites and uploaded pictures aren't going to disappear.

What's even more scary are the commercial companies that got all that information. Especially Google. Google got an insane amount of information that would make 1984's Ministry of Truth jealous. Of course there are some heavy laws about this in our countries, of course doesn't have a reason to do anything with it. But that information is worth a lot. It's worth more than something that could even be defined with 'money'.
Some of us have nothing to hide...
@matt -- send me your credut card number, name of your favorite pet, mother's maiden name and the city where you grew up, please.

Oh, I think you do have something to hide, though.

I use my real name on LinkedIn. Unfortunately, that has become a standard networking site and it makes job seeking far easier with it.

I also use my real name on Facebook, but I kinda regret that. I don't actually use FB, after all. Just some stupid thing I did because my sister told me to.

Luckily my real name is extremely common, and you would have a very tough time finding out which I was.
I'm fine with people knowing about me, I don't have anything to hide, I just want to come across as open and honest. Sometimes it really freaks people out, but, shit, I'm just doing my own thing.

@Tipa - There is a difference between blatant retardation and openness.
My real name is also common, and there are four others with the exact same first and last name on facebook already. Of course I have things to hide and I do hide those.. I don't put anything I want confidential on my blog or facebook, but if you want to know my name fine, seriously, there needs to be a balance between being paranoid and being promiscuous. I think I hit it at prudent. Unlike Tobold though I don't have any patents and probably never will unless I make a video game that I sell, anyways, my biggest worry is credit card fraud and second biggest is spammers. Girls usually have other legitimate worries, like rapists and stalkers and stuff. Seriously though even if the "internet" doesn't know your personal info there have been long standing institutions where you pay a fee and they get someone your info (to a limit, not your SSN) and anyone can find your address and phone if its listed on the white pages. I am on the do-not-call list for telemarketers. If they call I can get them fined. For more info on that go here
I really don't mind using my real name on my site or on my podcast. Heck, in Canada most don't even lock their doors...different strokes I guess.

This whole thing about being anonymous really comes down to a fear thing IMHO...when you break it down to its base level and honestly, I don't want to be scared of putting my real self and ideas out there.
Even though I blog under a pseudonym I am happy to correspond with people under my real name. I use the pseudonym not so much for privacy as to create a separation between various facets of my life. I don't want people who google me for work reasons to have to wade through gaming stuff and I don't want my gaming friends to have to deal with my work stuff.

By the way I did an exercise recently (detailed in my blog) to determine just how private my pseudonym really is and the answer is: not very. I doubt that I am alone in that. Most of use have left traces of ourselves all over the place and the internet has a surprisingly long memory.
That ship has very much sailed. Last count there were at least 12,000 pages of Google results for my name, mostly about me!

I tend to try the opposite approach - to make sure that there's nothing I'm *not* open about. For someone who makes his living as a filmmaker on the 'net, being secretive isn't really an option.
I'm an older guy, but I do sort of "get" Facebook. I know, IF my neighbors were into it, I'd probably participate. What I see as fascinating in the new social economy, is that people still seem to feel public things should be private-ish.

In Ashley Alexandra Dupre's case, it's almost bizarre that she tried to hide those things that were already out there for millions to see. If you don't want people looking, why'd you put it up? It's that weird sort of "public privacy" imperative, that I am seeing over and over.

Some of us have nothing to hide...

Post your phone number then )
It's called "Data mining".

I tend to keep my real name and my online handle as two distinct seperate entities. If you do a search for my online handle, you'll get lots of tabletop roleplaying links and a bunch of crpg sites and thats it.

If you do a search for my real name, you'd get about 4 hits, none of which have any personal data about it.

However, unless you're using an internet cafe to log into paying with cash, you're already on the "grid" to some extent and your personal details are already being exploited by one company or another - whether its your bank when you pay for things using a card, a shop when you collect points on a storecard, tagging on and off via transport infrastructure, paying bills by direct debit... the list just goes on and on...

If someone is determined to get information about you, they will.
bildo the blogger posting his own picture . is that dangerous ? who in his right mind would go after a gaming blogger ?
My mom is part of very lively forum for women in their 50-60s that she has been a part of for more than 10 years. She has received numerous threats once or twice a year for the past five or six years. Repeatedly. In the postal mail and on her home phone. There are good reasons to remain anonymous.
I have absolutely no problem with people knowing who I am. It isn't so much that I don't have anything to hide, but rather I grew up in a generation where the internet is just another facet of social existence. The things I reveal on the internet are the exact same as the things I would share with any person I met face to face; I don't go out of my way to tell my information to strangers, but if someone were to ask, hell, I would probably be more likely than not to give my phone number to you (Unless you are VERY strange).

As a general rule, it's silly and a tad bit paranoid to try your darndest to avoid personal information getting out; A sad truth of life is that if someone is determined enough, they will find out what they want to know any which way.
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