// Internet Duct Tape

Web Anonymity 101 – Digital Breadcrumbs

Posted in Online Privacy and Reputation Management, Technology by engtech on October 18, 2006

We are living more of our lives online. In real life if someone followed you, listened in on your conversations and went through your photo album without your permission you would call the police (or maybe they are the police). Things are different online. That information is easy to find; easier than people think.

One friend posted reviews of local restaurants under a pseudonym. He mentioned two of the co-workers he went out eating with in a review. It got back to them within three months after someone recognized the combination of their names. It was “worlds colliding,” not a serious breach of privacy but still a reminder that digital life sometimes intersects with real life when you least expect it.

Another friend learned the fury of a jealous girlfriend who searched his handle and memorized everything he had every written about a former fling. His personal life got unpleasant for a while, but no long term damage (except for back pain from sleeping on the couch).


Most recently a female friend made the mistake of sharing photos from her Flickr account with co-workers. The infatuated office dweeb used that information to find her Myspace account and her blog. An afternoon freak out followed, but in retrospect his actions were more pathetic than perilous.

Is it cyber-stalking if someone searches for information about you online? It is na�ve to assume that a blind date wouldn’t search Google before meeting you in person. Everyone has Googled themselves at one point or another and snooped on their Google dopplegangers (like engtech.ca, a consulting firm in PEI). But what about when we are Google by people we know, or more importantly, by people we barely know?

People don’t think twice about the digital breadcrumbs they leave behind with every website they join, every photo they upload, and every message they post. You might be comfortable with complete strangers reading your blog, but what about the guy who sits next to you in class? What about your boss?

We aren’t afraid of complete strangers being able to find out details of our lives. It is friends, family, co-workers and the “familiar strangers” we are hiding from.

Continued in Part 2 – a case study of how easy it is to find information on people. Concluded in Part 3 – how to be anonymous online by reducing information interconnections.

Related Posts

(Apologies to Chartreuse from behind his self-inflicted Great Wall of Web, because I really bit his style of posting.)

39 Responses

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  1. roy said, on October 18, 2006 at 8:37 am

    Google groups are a curse and a blessing. You know what I mean :-S

  2. Lloyd D Budd said, on October 18, 2006 at 9:01 am

    Power piece.

    I look forward to part 2, though I don’t think anonymity is a solution for most people.

  3. engtech said, on October 18, 2006 at 9:31 am

    I’ll get into it more with part 2, but the kind of anonymity I’m talking about is the sensible kind where you don’t go around using the same login name on dating sites as you do on your myspace/flickr/linkedin.

    Not the torpark, hiding IP address, kind where you’re acting like this might get you killed. The goal is to avoid being easily searchable — hiding in the crowd.

  4. Bella Slasher said, on October 18, 2006 at 5:35 pm

    I want to be profane and transparent with strangers.

    But yes, not with the familiar ones.

    *awaits part 2*

  5. A.J. Valliant said, on October 18, 2006 at 8:11 pm

    I counter this phenomena by posting everything under my real name, giving my real address, and mixing any personal revelation with large amounts of surreal embellishment. Anonymity just doesn’t suit my world view. I do however closely guard the real names and personal details of the other people in my life, out respect for their privacy [1].

    [1] Engtech’s real name is Julian Favreau

  6. Shawn said, on October 18, 2006 at 10:01 pm

    There is always http://stalkerati.com/ for the lazy :)

  7. Timothy Li said, on October 18, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    > What about your boss?

    LOL, anyone tried putting “Google me.” on their resume yet? =)

  8. engtech said, on October 18, 2006 at 11:21 pm

    Matt of Automattic (company that makes wordpress) has a business card that says “Google Matt” for information on how to contact him.

    Rory Blythe of napolean.com also can be found just by googling the name “rory” (that’s how his girlfriend met him)

  9. engtech said, on October 18, 2006 at 11:50 pm

    There is always http://stalkerati.com/ for the lazy :)

    I gave that a try and the results weren’t nearly as impressively stalkerish as Internet Address Book, mainly because Stalkerati is getting blocked.

  10. Timothy Li said, on October 19, 2006 at 12:49 am

    cool =) that’s who photo matt is, lol, I’ve had the blog for a while now but had no idea..

  11. [...] I recommend reading Web Anonymity 101 – Digital Breadcrumbs as an introduction. [...]

  12. Dave said, on October 21, 2006 at 2:55 am

    i wonder how much of this new secret fbi database on every american comes from freely available info on the web?

  13. engtech said, on October 21, 2006 at 4:57 am

    The FBI bought out Amazon a long time ago. They can keep track of who is buying bulk fertilizer and Al Gore books.

  14. Web anonimity « bedoa’s blog said, on October 21, 2006 at 8:56 pm

    [...] I’ve been wondering about this issue for a while… And I finally found some interesting post on engtech blog. As I don’t have anything to add right know, please go direct to the site to check it out yourself! (part 1, part 2)   [...]

  15. [...] I recommend reading Web Anonymity 101 – Digital Breadcrumbs as an introduction, and Web Anonymity 102 – A Case Study of how easy it is to find information about a person online. [...]

  16. links for 2006-10-25 at DeStructUred Blog said, on October 25, 2006 at 3:54 pm

    [...] Web Anonymity 101 – Digital Breadcrumbs « //engtech (tags: Web anonymity) [...]

  17. [...] #4: The personal information entered for registration is publically available on the Internet by doing a WHOIS.  This could be an issue for you if you are an anonymous blogger. It makes me glad I did this with beatsentropy.com instead of my main blog at engtech.wordpress.com that has over 250 back-links and a sub-10,000 Technorati rank. I know Raincoaster is a bit miffed at this turn of events. [...]

  18. s onosson said, on October 29, 2006 at 1:46 pm

    I try to make sure that my whole life is transparent to all involved in it. That way, I don’t have any trails to cover. Digital and non-digital, it’s all the same.

  19. Tech talk with engtech « Beats Entropy said, on October 30, 2006 at 8:14 am

    [...] I think my best writing since the last Tech Talk was with my “online anonymity” series. It’s done in three parts: Introduction, a Case Study (featuring the boys of Beats Entropy) and 12 Steps to Make Yourself Less Searchable. There may be a part 4 with tips on what to do once the cat is already out of the bag. [...]

  20. [...] This is related to my series on web anonymity and how privacy does not exist online (part 1, part 2, part 3). [...]

  21. The Great Firewall of Canada « //engtech said, on November 24, 2006 at 2:55 am

    [...] (very loosely related) My series on Internet anonymity (part 1, part 2, part 3) [...]

  22. Mike Russell said, on November 26, 2006 at 9:08 pm

    “I try to make sure that my whole life is transparent to all involved in it. That way, I don’t have any trails to cover. Digital and non-digital, it’s all the same.”

    Maybe you’ve never had your identity stolen and spent literally months trying to convince banks, card companies, phone companies, stores – the list goes on and on, that you didn’t sign up for whatever they think you did and that you don’t owe them a penny. Even when your bank finally does accept the police report as evidence of your innocence, it takes them months to repay you. Then there are the credit agencies and the bailiffs trying to break into your house and steal your car because you “haven’t paid.” That was not a pleasant experience, trust me and I thought I’d got everything covered pretty well.

    While transparency is an admiirable life philosophy, if you neglect security as a result, you will be sorry.

  23. monomaniac said, on January 25, 2007 at 11:25 pm

    Noone can be anonymous on the web.

    If you send e-mail, you have an IP.

    That’s about it.

  24. vaspers the grate said, on January 31, 2007 at 5:15 am

    The big photo, sparse text format of a blog is okay if you want to be a magazine dealing with butt ugly celebrities of Hellywood, but Chartreuse at least had some provocative marketing ideas, most of which were wrong and silly, but challenging.

    I harshed him pretty bad and he was man enough to take it, so a tip of the hat to him then. But to abandon a blog is a crime against free thought, if your blog had something valuable to ask or say.

    I like the pursuit of the dangers of blogging, and blogging is flogging the underachieving mediocres with barbed words and wire.

  25. [...] you have more than one nickname does not mean you are hidden. Read this three part article on Digital Breadcrumbs, done by a guy with not that much more computer knowledge than the average blogger, and see how [...]

  26. [...] you can guess from my previous series on online pseudo-anonymity, something that collects as much personal information as Facebook scares the bejebus out of me. [...]

  27. [...] Quote: “In real life if someone followed you, listened in on your conversations and went through your photo album without your permission you would call the police (or maybe they are the police)“ [...]

  28. [...] Web Anonymity 101 – Digital Breadcrumbs, entrada 1 de 3, engtech [...]

  29. » Remember Hansel and Gretel? said, on May 17, 2007 at 8:34 am

    [...] days I’ve been thinking about breadcrumbs. Not the literal ones mind you, the digital ones. Here is a brief blurb someone else posted on the topic. Milgram’s concept of “familiar strangers” is [...]

  30. [...] you can guess from my previous series on online pseudo-anonymity, something that collects as much personal information as Facebook scares the bejebus out of me. [...]

  31. [...] Web Anonymity 101 – Digital Breadcrumbs [...]

  32. [...] Digital Breadcrumbs – Intro [...]

  33. [...] This is related to my series on web anonymity and how privacy does not exist online (part 1, part 2, part [...]

  34. [...] Anonymity 103 – Online Privacy I recommend reading Web Anonymity 101 – Digital Breadcrumbs as an introduction, and Web Anonymity 102 – A Case Study of how easy it is to find information [...]

  35. Comments « Internet Duct Tape said, on July 20, 2007 at 2:38 am

    [...] anonymity 101 prompted some good discussion by Roy (who knows the horror of Google Groups) and Bella Slasher wants to be “profane and [...]

  36. [...] recommend reading the following: Web Anonymity 101 – Digital Breadcrumbs as an introduction; Web Anonymity 102 – A Case Study of how easy it is to find information about a [...]

  37. [...] recommend reading the following: Web Anonymity 101 – Digital Breadcrumbs as an introduction; Web Anonymity 102 – A Case Study of how easy it is to find information about a [...]

  38. [...] the additional information you offered in email, chat, or on social networking). The issue is that what you think is anonymous is not. It can all be tracked back to you to build a huge personal profile on each one of [...]

  39. [...] public profiles by Cambridge University Computer Laboratory researchers • A three part blog on Web Anonymity (with a touch of humour!) by engtech Views:2 views Add to: del.icio.us | Digg IT | Furl | Google [...]


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