// Internet Duct Tape

Web Anonymity 102 – A Case Study

Posted in Online Privacy and Reputation Management, Technology by engtech on October 20, 2006

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

We are putting more of our lives online with the “social networking” Web 2.0 phenomenon. It is becoming easier to find information about a person. People are building extensive databases about themselves without thinking about the long-term consequences. The Internet is forever; once something is online it is cached and archived.

There is enough information available that it is nigh impossible to hide your identity from someone who is determined to find out more about you, especially if they already have an inkling of where to look.

Case Study – How easy is it to find information about someone online?

Identity searches start with a piece of known information: real name, common pseudonym, email address or IM username. I’m going to see how easy it is to find online information about myself, four friends and a family member who also blogs. Like a true friend I haven’t warned them I am about to do this.

  • engtech - Me, the guy who runs this site.
  • AJ - Writer from Beats Entropy, guest blogger from last week.
  • jaybird - Movie critic from Beats Entropy, we went to University together.
  • Kenji - Web comic author from Beats Entropy.
  • Dr. Entropy – Another guy from Beats Entropy.
  • Anonymous Related Blogger – Is it my father? My brother? My cousin? My cat? The plot thickens.
  engtech AJ jaybird Kenji Dr. Entropic Anonymous
Real name publicized No Yes No Yes No No
Google search by real name Needle in haystack 559 links, all to him 2nd page of google 785 links, all to him Needle in haystack Needle in haystack
Google Groups search by real name Nothing Stuff for sale Oooh, that’s embarassing Demo scene n3rd Nothing Nothing
Google Groups search by known email addresses Nothing Nothing Books for sale Nothing Nothing Nothing
Google search by email address Nothing Link to blog Nothing Same as web hosting for his art site Link to blog Nothing
Google search by MSN address Nothing Nothing Nothing Nothing Nothing Nothing
Internet Address Book search by real name Nothing Nothing Nothing Leads to LinkedIn account and Flickr account Nothing Leads to LinkedIn account
Google search by pseudonym Needle at the top of the haystack, I finally took the #1 position on Google for engtech Needle at the top of the haystack Needle in a haystack, did find movie / book reviews / photography by searching on Flickr account Needle at the top of the haystack Link to blog 1540 links, all to same person
Found social bookmark sites delicious,
reddit,
digg and
netscape bookmarks
None None None None Amazon profile,
delicious
Found Flickr account Nothing Nothing Linked to from blog, linked to from Kenji’s Flickr Linked to from blog,
linked to from artist website,
found on Internet Address Book
Nothing Nothing
Found Myspace account No myspace account to find Real name search,
display name search
No myspace account to find Real name search,
email search,
display name search
No myspace account to find Nothing
Found message board posts Blog comments Yes Yes Yes No Blog comments
Found list of friends Loser has no friends On blog On Flickr and blog On Myspace,
Flickr,
and blog
On blog None
Found photos Suitably anonymous On blog,
on friend’s photo pages
On blog,
on friend’s photo pages
On blog,
on friend’s photo pages,
on Flickr,
on Myspace,
on artist website
Suitably anonymous None
Found embarassing photos No Yes Yes Yes No No
Found calendar of events No Yes Yes Yes No No
Found home address No On blog No No No Yes, by searching on real email address
Found home phone number No No No No No Yes, by searching on real email address

Originally written using a theme that spanned the entire page. Apologies if it collides with the sidebar on the current theme.

Conclusions

AJ – His fictional work-related posts are hilarious, but may by enough to get him dooced one day. It will probably be my fault.

Kenji – He’s a freelance artist / part-time graphics artist for a game company and all promotion is good.

Jaybird – Dude, you like movies more than I do and that’s saying a lot. :) I couldn’t find any mention of your performance in “Girls Gone Wild – South Beach” so you’ve at least managed to avoid the really incriminating stuff. Oh, wait, what was that on Usenet?

Doc Entropy – Man of mystery. Pseudonym was created when Beats Entropy started, he’s fairly anonymous because of it. I did manage to uncover that he isn’t a real doctor.

Family member – Uses same pseudonym for del.icio.us account. Del.ici.ous has bookmarks for health related articles that give a clear indication of her medical history (or the medical history of people she cares about). What’s funny is that there were also a lot of links to articles about Internet privacy. Search on real email address leads to home address.

This case study highlighted several things:

  • Information is only a quick search away.
  • Stuff posted on Usenet lives forever.
  • Social bookmarking may reveal things you didn’t intend to.
  • In any collection of public photos there are sure to be some embarrassing ones (if you aren’t a complete bore).
  • Message board posts and blog entries are a good source of information (I didn’t search in depth though).
  • We’re old. Except for The Kenji, he strangles kittens to keep his youthful look.

We fell into two categories: worried about Internet privacy or blase about it. Dr. Entropic is the most aloof. He created an email/handle for his blog and doesn’t use it anywhere else. Kenji was the most prolific. He’s an artist and the publicity is good for him. I have a very public identity that is hopefully devoid of personal information, while AJ lays it all on the line. My Anonymous Blogging Relative has the most personal information easily available.

This wasn’t as interesting of an expos� as I hoped. I blame it on being part of the Web 1.0 generation, not the Web 2.0 generation. We haven’t uploaded any videos of ourselves doing embarrassing things on YouTube, or put together a list of everyone we’ve slept with on MySpace. But there was a fair share of naughty photos, and some of the old Usenet posts will forever be saved as blackmail material.

We’re a web savvy bunch and we don’t put information online that we don’t want to publicize.

This is Part 2 of a series. The first part is Web Anonymity 101 – Digital Breadcrumbs. It conclude in Web Anonymity 103 – Online Privacy where I discuss simple methods to reduce the information interconnections.

 

12 Responses

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  1. [...] Continued in Part 2 – a case study of how easy it is to find information on people. Concluded in Part 3, where I’ll give tips on being anonymous. [...]

  2. A.J. Valliant said, on October 20, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    “AJ – His fictional work-related posts are hilarious, but may by enough to get him dooced one day.”

    I’ve had a good run.

  3. jaybird said, on October 20, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    @engtehc:

    You bastard! If I start seeing those old posts show up then you bet some “embarassing photos” will show up as well.

    Remember Halloween 1999? I didn’t think so.

    Luckily my camera remembers!

  4. Dave said, on October 21, 2006 at 2:54 am

    great comparison.

  5. Bella Slasher said, on October 22, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    That was great engtech.

    I googled my real name and got all these geeky, dean’s list, activism petition type hits.

    Then I googled my “other” names and a whole new world of debauchery was waiting.

  6. [...] Web Anonymity 102 – A Case Study « //engtech We are putting more of our lives online with the “social networking” Web 2.0 phenomenon. It is becoming easier to find information about a person. People are building extensive databases about themselves without thinking about the long-term consequences. The Internet is forever; once something is online it is cached and archived. [...]

  7. Tech talk with engtech « Beats Entropy said, on October 30, 2006 at 8:15 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. [...]

  8. Daij said, on October 31, 2006 at 3:04 am

    My username which I use for everything, they all pretty much link my blog, my myspace, my wikipedia profile…and pointing to both versions of my real name, I’m a needle in the haystack, all results showing have nothing to do with me, just people with similiar names, but are people who I am not. So happy!!!

  9. Lola said, on April 19, 2007 at 2:24 am

    My real name turns up all kinds of stuff, mostly employment related but also some writing I’ve done. My usernames turn up my projects associated with that, where I’m not actively using my first and last name. It was still a bit alarming to see all the hits that came up with both my real name and username. I hadn’t googled myself in several months and more’s been added.

  10. [...] 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 person online; Web Anonymity 103 – Online Privacy on [...]

  11. [...] 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 person online; Web Anonymity 103 – Online Privacy on [...]

  12. [...] one question you answered today (or 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 [...]


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