Are You off the Grid?By Adrian Lane
I got email from friends this week about a web site that creeped them out. It’s called Spokeo, and it provides a Google-like search on personal information. Rather than creeped out, I was fascinated. Not to look for other people, but to see what the search found for me. I hate mentioning it as I am not endorsing the web site or service, but I can’t help my fascination at seeing what personal data has been collected and aggregated on me. I actually have a larger Internet fingerprint than I expected!
This tool is kinda like Firesheep for personal information: the data is already out there, this site just shoves in your face how easy it is for anyone to collect basic stuff about you. But the friends who directed me to the site were genuinely worried that criminals would use the site to locate single women in their late 70s in order to create a robbery target list. Seriously … that explicit. I told them they needed counseling as they probably had ‘mommy’ issues. I find this ridiculous because in Arizona we call have ‘Sun City’ – the age-restricted community where everyone seems to be over 70, with some of the lowest crime rates in the county.
I make a big deal about personal data because I believe no good deed goes unpunished. Shared personal information will sooner or later be used against you. My personal phobia is that an insurance company will write an automated crawler for personal data, consider something I do ‘risky’, and quadruple my rate for fun. Yeah, I probably need counseling as well.
The paranoid part of me wanted to know how much more I had exposed myself. I looked myself up in various states, with and without my middle name. In most cases it’s easy to see where the data came from. Facebook. LinkedIn. Yelp. Some information has to be public because of government regulations. Sometimes it looks like data collected from other people’s contact lists that I never authorized, which is why I found old phone numbers from decades past. In some cases I couldn’t tell – I looked on all of the social media I use and couldn’t find a reference.
It’s been a decade or so but I knew I would eventually see a tool like this. What made me laugh is that my years of paranoia have paid off. This shows up in how they get a lot of stuff wrong. Whenever I sign up for anything on line I always use make-believe data: age, race, contact information, etc. Sure, some digital profiles are work-related and so can’t be totally fake, but it’s kinda fun to see that I am a late-40’s hispanic woman to much of the digital world. Still, private as I am, I lost the bet with my wife, who has less public data out there. She is virtually invisible online. “Ha! Take that, Mr. Privacy Expert!” was her comment.