03252014 Privacy? Ha, Ha !

A week doesn’t pass when someone doesn’t seem shocked that much of their “privacy” is available either online or through the government. People who lock down their social media are no more protected than those who post everything publicly. But I can see that it is easier to believe that your privacy is protected. One of the most common errors I find, especially among the more educated, is foregoing Facebook or Twitter but relying on services such as LinkedIn. While Facebook can be locked down and used even jokingly, LinkedIn (as an example) contains your real information. Many users don’t think twice about exposing their résumé on such services, voluntarily, yet don’t feel exposed because it is a ‘better’ service than other social media. The same logic extends toward ALL professional associations and clubs. History teaches us that smart people tend to exploit their environment, too.

Do you own property? Chances are that your name, address, taxes, children’s school district, and even a floor map of your house are a couple of clicks away, online, via your local property records. Most searches allow you to use last name only or for multiple guesses. (The more unusual any of your names are, the more easily you are found. Worse still, these property listings are VERY likely to include your middle names, or legal versions of your name that are otherwise more difficult to ascertain casually) On top of that, if you click on deed links, you can see the full legal signatures of everyone involved. Sometimes, your banking institution is listed, as well as other information you wouldn’t expect to be publicly available, such as the location of your garage, where the doors and windows to your house are and whether you have a basement. Almost always, there is also a “map it” link on the property, so anyone can click it and get a detailed map, including street view, of how exactly to get to your property.

1st Place to Look For Property Records in Arkansas  (Link…)
2nd Place to Look    (Link…)

If you own property, you are tacitly agreeing to forgo much of the illusion of privacy.

(Some lawn care services now simply look up your address to quote a price to maintain your lawn based on your lot size and layout, as they can use google street view and satellite imagery to see everything in and around your yard.)

-Marriage licenses? Public.
-Almost all divorce proceedings? Public.
-Voter Registration information? Public.
-If you sue or get sued, chances are all of it is public, including all the motions and filings.
-A lot of people’s job applications are public (even if you don’t get the job!)
-If you’ve ever been charged with a crime, much less convicted, that information is out there for basically anyone to find.
-If you own a business, your business license, incorporation papers and anything similar is a matter of public record.

Want to check your own voter registration (or that of someone else?) Watch what information pops up…  Check Your Voter Registration Information Here                  (This can be a useful link, regardless of privacy, as you can look over candidate information and sample ballots.) But for anyone who can just GUESS your birthday, they can find you without any real effort. You might think you are safer listing only your day and month of birth in multiple places, but it’s an easy guess as to what year you were born, based on schools and other data.

If you know where someone went to school, many yearbooks are available online, for free. If you don’t mind paying for the information, your options expand exponentially. School pictures are in the public domain and are basically impossible to stop from being disseminated. Using Google or DuckDuckGo search engines unveils another universe of photos. Even if you aren’t sharing on Facebook, chances are that your picture has appeared many times in newspapers, LinkedIn, professional newsletters, etc. Databases usually don’t forget you, regardless of the amount of time that has passed. If you learn to use search engines creatively, you are guaranteed to find pictures of anyone. If you don’t mind physically searching at libraries, courthouses and newspapers, you can access anything. We all have pictures of us floating around in real and cyberspace. Worrying about it is no longer meaningful. If you factor in how many times you’ve been filmed or photographed passively by CCTV or surveillance, the probability of you being identified using facial recognition software is 100%.

I’ve known a few people who have public and professional jobs who think their information is safe. “Safe” is a relative word in today’s world. Much of the information being collected is a result of our own tax dollars being used to create ever-increasing databases of information. Your specialized job doesn’t insulate you from exposure to the crazy world. I have yet to find anyone immune from the limelight of information exposure, no matter how careful they think they are being. Regardless of what any government agency collects, each of us is daily doing our part to add information to our database, whether we do so willingly or not.

Even using the most basic functions on Intelius, Zabasearch, PeopleFinder, Pipl or any other common search option yields a lot of information about people – all without paying. Examples sometimes include your age, address, places you’ve lived, professional associations, schools, etc. If you are willing to pay, the amount of information you have available increases considerably. Using the free services usually yields enough background information to confirm your search and to develop leads originating from the confirmed information.

If you make more money or enjoy a better professional standing, your exposure increases, as you are very likely to have been pictured and mentioned in a dozen different formats. Anyone with professional affiliations such as police, real estate, lawyers, or teachers is almost guaranteed to be found without fuss. (The very people who would be most likely to fuss about privacy are also the most likely to have their particulars splattered all over cyberspace and realspace. You are noteworthy and if it’s being noted, it is being saved for later.)

As for social media, it is amazing how many tools are out there to analyze the who, what, when and where of what you say on Facebook and Twitter, among other services. No matter what your privacy settings, listen to that little voice in your head telling you it is all floating around out there anyway. That little voice is correct. No matter how careful you are, at some point the certainly of all information eventually being exposed becomes unavoidable. Even if companies share just your metadata, the algorithms which monitor everything already “know” you. People who aren’t on Facebook, for example, are still identified. Facebook has a huge repository of information that connects you to family and friends. It “knows” who you are – even if you’ve never had an account. It knows what you look like, then and now. People think I’m making that part up, but it’s true.There are geniuses who can subvert any privacy settings on social media and get past the protocols for privacy.

In many places, once you put your trash on the curb, it is available for anyone to pick up and take. Yes, that includes your five years of tax papers, bank statements, personal letters – all of which you knew you should have shredded, but didn’t.

Since I starting doing genealogy, I have been constantly astonished about what is out there in cyberspace – much of it listed willingly by real people. Having access to some of it has allowed me to genuinely help people. I’ve been able to locate people’s “lost” birth certificates, find their biological relatives, locate people who were once important to them, provide information that has allowed people to substantiate claims for grants and Native American registration and so forth. Some of it has been very rewarding. But the more I learn, the weirder that nagging feeling in the back of my head gets. It’s telling me that privacy is an illusion that we are trying to collectively believe in, despite all the evidence. I’ve found pictures of people who have erroneously claimed to have never been photographed and found information and pictures of those who do jobs that require secrecy. Many times, some of this information that should be protected vigorously is offered by local, state, and federal agencies without consideration for content or identification. (As an example, investigators who have been recognized or rewarded or even been in the news for heroic acts.)

If you aren’t checking at least one of your major credit reports yearly, you are inviting misery into your lives. A copy can be obtained freely from all 3 major credit bureaus. Even if they aren’t a total solution, getting yours should be the minimum, every year. If you aren’t doing it, you might as well be writing your social security number on the wall at the bus station.

As far as I know, I’ve never broken any laws regarding privacy, nor have I used any paid services, even legal ones, much less illegal ones, to obtain information. (Employing a private investigator, for example, is legal and opens up virtually any avenue of inquiry you would want to pursue.) I’ve found that for almost all inquiries, enough is out there already to eliminate the need for complex searching.

And such is our plight – in a world of information overload, each of our lives is spilled out across the world in little pieces, waiting for the wrong crazy puzzle-solver to pick them up. Hiding in seclusion isn’t the answer as it ignores the fact that horse if already galloping out of the barn.

Lifehacker Link To Delete Oneself From the Internet…
It won’t “really” work unless you devote a lot of time to it!