Googling for dirt

matthew's picture

Running a weblog has a lot of benefits, with some downsides:

  • I get to hear the opinions of good friends separated by a long distance.
  • I have an easy place to dump technical information for future reference. I can't count the number of times I've accessed my page on building a kernel module from various workplaces as I've run into problems.
  • Family and friends can keep track of what's new in my life.
  • It's easy for people to locate me via Google.
  • Having an online journal kind of forces me to periodically review my thoughts on various topics, and put them in writing so I know what I'm thinking.
  • People can look you up and decide to not like you due to your opinions, resulting in missed job opportunities, heat at work, and general nastiness.

It's that last point that is painful. You see, the community in Utah is small enough -- about 750,000 people in a few hundred square miles -- that as a UNIX admin, you gradually come to know, and be known, throughout the area. Every interview I've been to while looking for my next job, we've known someone in common. That knowledge of somone in common can be the difference between getting the job, and not getting the job.

Running an online journal brings that one level closer to you. You put your life out on display, hanging in the breeze for anyone to examine. It takes a while for you to get your bearings, and in the meantime, those old entries don't just go away on their own.

People you know can, and do, look you up.

I was recently asked by a friend to modify some data on barnson.org to make it less personally-identifiable. This really brought my thought process to a head: what are we really doing here? In posting news, updates, various rants, and other information to the Internet, we're taking conversation that would normally take place at the coffee shop and be forgotten about almost as soon as it's said, and now nailing it down in the annals of history, forever in print for us, and others, to examine, for the rest of our lives. And beyond, maybe.

When I was on my last contract, I posted some information about the place I was working for. It was all information already available on the 'net, and the kind of stuff anybody could figure out with a few minutes and a calculator. Yet I was pulled into my boss's office for a potential "violation of your non-disclosure agreement" and asked to change the data.

Now, in my opinion, the information was trivial. I deleted a single sentence, and the posting was appropriate. Had I said the same thing at home, or in a coffee shop, nobody would know, nobody would care.

But the key reason why they objected? The information wasn't glowingly positive, and my posting showed up in the first page on a Google search for the company name.

I believe it's not what I wrote, or even the less-than-adulatory perspective it conveyed, that was the problem. It was public exposure. Had I even written "the company is small and unstable, with little money in the bank", this would all be publicly-available information, but because of the employer-employee relationship, they could have exerted very strong pressure ("we'll get someone else", basically) to get me to change the information.

If it was something few other people would see, they wouldn't care. But because of that exposure, as the Internet becomes increasingly the first source people turn to for news, rather than the television or radio, it's becoming an increasingly important place for a company to keep a positive "spin" on their activities.

I'm not sure if this is a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing. But running a weblog, particularly where you expose much in the way of private information, is a life-changing choice. You don't realize it on your first post, or the fifteenth, but at some point you realize it's both a good and a bad thing in your life. In my case, at least, far more good than bad; I have a place to post important information, and given my technical specialty, it's an acceptable quirk for most people.

But I do wonder what will be the eventual fate of traditional media outlets as blogs continue to grow to first sources of information, and continue to dominate the search engine rankings. What do you think the net effect of putting all this information on the Internet will be?

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Timpane's picture

A Good Thing

This weblog is a significant part of a bunch of people's lives now. Its grown beyond your weblog, which is important to note.

Its Mine, Its weed's its Sam's and Ben's, and all the others who come here and post on the front page, not just in replies. Its the unofficial site (with lots of media) of Wayward Sun. It is a political board. Its a religious board. Its a technical source, its a lot of things. I knew ben through you and then again through a friend in college, knew him by site, chatted with him, and never really got to know him till here. I knew Sam well enough that i hung out at his house a few times, but never really knew where he stood on stuff till here.

And it is a great place to realize that the world is a lot more like this board than it is like the microchasm that is Utah. Consider it a good thing.. and if soem people don't like it because they find it offensive, they shouldn't worry.. it never is.. so F#$%@ them.

=)

NVZ: NINJAS VS ZOMBIES - THE MOVIE - www.nvzmovie.com
THE OFFICIAL JUSTIN TIMPANE WEBSITE - www.timpane.com

Sammy G's picture

Guilty

I was the friend who asked Matt to change some data, only because it could potentially damage a business relationship.

Your political views, inner thoughts and behavior all become public as soon as you release your name and a recognizeable avatar on the web. Googlebot is a rabid monster (you should see what happens when it comes through your site collecting data!), and it's easy for an employer to catch up on your life mighty quick.

To answer Matt's question, I think the eventual effect will be IP addresses changing to function like PO Boxes. After a while, folks will want that added step between anonymity and access. It's already happened with email adresses. I've got a friend here with an email address "priceeeeeeeeeeeeee@yahoo", although I'm not exactly sure if the number of "e"s are correct. His rationale for this was that, yes it's a pain to enter the address correctly in your contacts database the first time, but spam is negated, and nobody can find him on the web.

How many of us have the throw-away hotmail or yahoo account that we use for registering or for junk? Probably all of us. Even on my broadband account from home, I'm using a sub-account as my main email, just so I can change it in case the spam or ID spotting gets out of hand.

I think one thing that will retain its sanctity will be blogs or online columns of newspaper and zine editorial areas, where people feel that the interface is meant for contribution of ideas and feelings in a structured and public environment.

weed's picture

Information is the inverse of privacy

Yeah, its scary what's available on the internet for someone who really wants to find it. REALLY SCARY! If I knew your name, your bank account number, and your social security number, and your mother's maiden name, I could have access to your account right now. And how hard would that really be to find out?

One of the things that I think set me apart in the IT field is not tha I'm "brilliant" at computers, but it's my ability to find answers on the internet. To know how to have Google tell me what I need to know. I may not be able to figure out how to write a webpage that uses css and is compatible with netscape 4.X, but I can find someone who does who gives me examples on the web.

And as an IT guy, let me tell you that you need to be careful at work too. Employers can and do monitor you. My work only monitors when they have probably cause, but I'm sure other companies do it whenever they want. And I don't even want to get into the military. And if you think that just because your bank's webpage is SSL encrypted that you're safe, think again. You're safe with respect to the internet, but if your employer has put a keystroke monitor on your computer, they'll have your usernames and passwords right quick. Just hope your IT guy is honest...

Just things to thinik about. We all know it to some degree...how many of us shred everything that needs to be in our postal mail?

Why do you think my name is Weed, and my avatar is of the Beastie Boys? Just another layer of separation...

Be safe
My $.02
Weed

My $.02
Weed

matthew's picture

Ran into this the other day

I actually ran into this the other day. I called my bank and related that I couldn't get into my online access account. He asked me for:

  • My name
  • My account number
  • My social security number

He then reset my password back to the last four digits of my social security number, had me test it out, and thanked me for my time.

How easy is that to get? One lost checkbook, and they can social-engineer the bank into resetting my password to a known value. How exciting.

--
Matthew P. Barnson

--
Matthew P. Barnson

Ben's picture

hm

--How easy is that to get? One lost checkbook, and they can social-engineer the bank into resetting my password to a known value. How exciting.--

Well, not quite. They'd have to have your SSN, which isn't as easy to track down. Of course, identity theft is on the rise.

I'm not that concerned about what goes out on the internet under my name. I do try to be careful never to mention the names of the places I work for, and full names of people I'm referring to. But that said, I doubt anyone cares about what I have to say. ;)

--
Ben Schuman
Mad, Mad Tenor

--
Ben

Timpane's picture

I Care, ben

I really really care.

=)

NVZ: NINJAS VS ZOMBIES - THE MOVIE - www.nvzmovie.com
THE OFFICIAL JUSTIN TIMPANE WEBSITE - www.timpane.com

Ben's picture

I'm touched.

*sniffle*

--
Ben Schuman
Mad, Mad Tenor

--
Ben

weed's picture

But remember...

The thing is, everyone is worried about pople hacking into your computer. But what about the corporate computers? What's to stop the HR person at your job, who has your SSN, your DOB, and all kinda goodies, from becoming disgruntled and selling that info. It happened here in B-more at a Quest Diagnostic lab. 4 men and 1 employee were running an identity theft ring, with the Quest employee giving out the necessary information.

And you can't do a durn thing about it because you HAVE to give that info to your employer.

It's scary to think you're only one employee away at any given time to something like that.

My $.02
Weed

My $.02
Weed

paul@murphymaphia.com's picture

BTW

That reminds me, Weed. Your bank called and has had some trouble with hackers. They need you to go to this link here and verify your SSN, account number and password. OK?

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*This signature is an experiment in Google Bombing
mot propre

weed's picture

Uhm...okay!

The bad thing is, not only do they get your info if you are stupid enough to go to sites like that and give your pin, but even visiting the web site might get you a keylogging virus. Then they can see what keystrokes you've typed, hopefully including passwords, pins, etc, and get your money that way.

Technology advancements + ignorance = exploitation

Here, ma'am, take this fine opiate potion to cure your fevers...

My $.02
Weed

My $.02
Weed

matthew's picture

Internet Explorer on Windows

It's important to note that the key-logging exploit only works if you are using Internet Explorer on Windows.

Yawn. Safari on Mac, Mozilla on Windows, and Konqueror on Linux. Nobody boddah's me....

--
Matthew P. Barnson

--
Matthew P. Barnson

paul@murphymaphia.com's picture

true

but every site you visit looks like crap because (almost) no one tests for those browsers. You can't win for losing in this world.

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*This signature is an experiment in Google Bombing
mot propre

weed's picture

True but

Yeah, but that's because no one bothers with browsers that 1% of the people use. How many websites crash and burn using those browsers? As bad a Windows and IE are, they DO give a "standard" platform for the masses to base development on.

Of course, if MS could actually program their apps to the standards of the industry, then maybe we could all get along...but that doesn't help the bottom line. Instead, we'll "enhance" the standard (or bastardize, depending on your point of view), get everyone hooked, then they'll have to buy our products!!! HAHAHAHAHA!!!

It's so evil, but it pays the mortgage on the $65 million dollar house...

My $.02
Weed

My $.02
Weed

paul@murphymaphia.com's picture

Standards

I'm all for standards but seriously, the W3C HTML and DHTML standards really really suck. Its as if the people there are the kind who say "The web was originally intended to disseminate research papers and Star Trek episode guides. Anything more is luxury and should be non-standard".
The industry should be following Microsofts lead on this one and expanding the object model and opening up the plug-in standard.

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*This signature is an experiment in Google Bombing
mot propre