Don’t get too paranoid, but …

This is well worth reading for people who haven’t yet inculcated habits that mean they can’t easily be identified online: Death by Google Calendar: how I identified you to rob you.

I am not picking on this woman but I needed to show a real example. There are tons of public calendars far more revealing than this one. In literally 20 minutes, I now know the name, address, phone number and schedule of this woman. If I can do it, you can be damn sure the real bad guys can. Please be smarter about what you share online. If given a choice, choose the private setting. If you are not given a choice, either choose a new calendar or talk in some code that only you understand. I guess I just don’t understand why people set themselves up to become victims.

I don’t think one needs to be totally paranoid. I have met people in real life that I only know online – in a safe public place, and people that I’ve read for a while in multi-user forums, not just people who’ve initiated a private email correspondence that no-one else is aware of. I had someone try that one when I was a newbie, and it freaked me out a bit (he was probably just a bit kinky rather than dangerous, but I wasn’t interested enough to risk finding out).

Online friendships are burgeoning into offline friendships and romances every day, more and more often. I recently attended a fabulous 40th birthday party for a Sydney blogger (originally from another country) where nearly everyone there was someone initially met online. I belong to a mailing list that hived off from a USENet newsgroup where there are about a dozen long-term couples who met through the group/list, and where we regularly meet up with members in other countries as we travel the world for business or pleasure. None of these people had two heads or were carrying an axe, although some of them may be a little quiet or shy in person.

There is a risk, ably demonstrated by dumblittleman’s post, that as people become more accustomed to keeping more and more personal information in online databases (because they’re free!) that people will become more open than they should be. Even though I don’t use my surname or identify my suburb on my blog, there are ways people could trace back to me if they were just a little bit clever and persistent, so I don’t mention beforehand when I’m going on holiday if the house is going to be empty, I just post the photos afterwards.

I certainly don’t keep an online calendar public. I can see why a businessman, professional or academic might keep a general office hours online schedule public, but certainly not their private details of their residential comings and goings. That’s just asking for a burglary at best.

Categories: Life, Meta, Sociology

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