Information of the Personal Sort

“Today anyone on the Internet can find out more about what you read, think, and earn than the secret police of Stalin or Hitler could have learned.” – Robert Scheer

“STALKING”

I have stalking in quotes because while it is a word we toss around a lot, its definition is very serious.

Stalking refers to harassing or threatening behavior that is engaged in repeatedly. – Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

Because I’m using stalking here in a more informal and less malicious form, the quotes are necessary. The stalking I’m referring to starts and stops at the information gathering stage and never becomes harassment.

I’ve googled myself. I’ve googled my friends and I’m sure you have to. I’ve done so just to figure out what’s out there, but what about googling people you don’t know? Or using Spokeo or another white/yellow pages site? Many people do casual/impromptu background checks on others (especially in the online dating scene) and with arguably good reason. You never really know who you’re talking to. Knowledge, after all, is supposed to be power, but where do you draw the line? Just because it may be easy to find out about people online, that doesn’t mean you should do it.

I think the issue occurs when you act on the information you’ve found. It’s one thing to “stalk” somebody’s facebook and go through their pictures and quite another to look up their address or telephone number and make unsolicited calls or visits. I hope that example doesn’t sound too extreme because I think it happens more often than we think. On a more basic level, I once received a facebook message from a guy who knew a mutual friend and had “seen me around” with the mutual friend. That was a bit unsettling to say the least.

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?

Don’t divulge all of your information – names, social security number, passwords, phone numbers, addresses/locations, and photos. These two tips from Psychology Today are just as relevant for teens as they are for adults.

Remember everything you post online is public. It doesn’t matter whether or not you delete the message or text. If you’ve published it it’s traceable. When you post things online your creating a cyber fingerprint.

Don’t give out personal and confidential information online. Never share your full name, home address, phone number, Social Security number, passwords, names of family members, or credit card numbers.

Consider Evan Raitliff’s story – he attempted to vanish while challenging the world to find him. Not to spoil the story, but Evan was found. His pursuers were able to track his whereabouts through technological means – IP addresses, video cameras, and ATM transactions – but they were also able to find him because they knew about his interests. I don’t think any of the people searching for Evan had any malicious intent, but imagine if they had with the kind of information they were able to generate. The sheer volume is both impressive and scary. Even more daunting? It appears that all the information was gathered legally. That isn’t to say you should be George Orwell 1984 paranoid, but it would be remiss not to proceed with caution.

IDENTITY THEFT

Not talked about necessarily within my age group, but I think that putting your info out there also makes you susceptible to identity theft. A study by Carnegie Mellon University found that all a criminal might need is your birth date and location to accurately guess your social security number. Credit cards and other financial information can be stolen as well as something as simple as a picture. Somebody could steal one of your photos and masquerade as you or use your likeness to pretend to be another person.

BE PROACTIVE

When I looked up my mom on Spokeo and found her cell phone number there for the world to see, I immediately set out to figure out how to get the information deleted. If you know what information about yourself is out there, then you’ll be better equipped to figure out how to take it down.

The bottom line is to be smart about not only what information you put out but what you do with the information you are given.

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One Comment to “Information of the Personal Sort”

  1. Britt, this is a great post for students our age because I think that many of us are much less skeptical and careful about what we post on the internet than we should be, perhaps because the internet has been such a big part of our lives that it has become almost the most comfortable arena for information. I think it’s safe to say that all of us have “stalked” people via Facebook, whether it is a crush or just an acquaintance’s pictures that we flip through when we are bored. But you are right to point out that there is a fine line between “casual stalking” and something much more serious. Hopefully none of us will ever get to this point, but it is important to remember that we cannot fully control who is looking at our own information. And it’s not necessarily creepy stalkers, but also potential employers or others who we might not want to see pictures of us chugging beer at Tailgate! Great post though, I look forward to reading more.

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