Last night, when I was digging for old Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic I wrote when I was 11, I ran across a page that had set up a profile for me.
Nothing I'd signed up for; a site that had apparently trawled search engines and found things out about me.
For example, it had an address and phone number on it that were both, at various times, attached to my domain registration information for this site. It asterisked out the last four digits of the phone number, as well as the street numbers of the address -- but I don't know how much that would prevent anyone from finding the house, seeing as the site's got a satellite photo of it with an arrow pointing to it.
Now, I haven't lived at that house in years. And I've been pretty good about keeping my current address off the Internet for most of this century. But you know, I did pick up a stalker once who posted vaguely threatening satellite photos of old addresses he'd found by Googling my name. He was laughably incompetent at the whole stalker thing, but it was still a little on the creepy side.
There are other things about that site that made me curious about its data aggregation. I know where it got my (old) address and phone number, but it also knew my brother's name, and I'm curious where it found that. (Not like it's a secret or anything, I'm just wondering where and how the scraper found it.) It also listed my age -- as "early 40's", which I have to admit makes me feel a little better about turning 30 in a couple months.
But you know, it's a bit disquieting to know that that address and phone number will be associated with me forever (or at least for years to come). If I ever attract any competent crazies, that could mean harrassment for whoever lives in those two places now. (My domain is now registered to the address and phone number of the hosting company. Please don't go after them if I piss you off, either; they're an understaffed local business and their job is tough enough as it is.)
There was a story a few months back about Spike Lee retweeting what he believed to be the address of accused child-murderer George Zimmerman but turned out to belong to a couple of elderly retirees. You can imagine how that went.
So, you know, not that I believe that the sort of gibbering maniac who stalks people who make him angry on the Internet will heed this advice, but here it is anyway: do not engage in Internet Mob Justice. You want to send an angry E-Mail to a public address or call in a complaint to a public number, okay, but leave personal phones and home addresses out of it. Not just because that's basic human decency, but because you might get the wrong person.
But Internet Mob Justice could make for a whole other post, or a whole series of them. (And, mind, I haven't actually been subjected to any, beyond the weirdo with the satellite photos a few years ago, nor do I expect to; I'm just indulging in general musing right now.)
But back to the point. Back when I used my real, personal addresses and phone numbers as contact for this domain, I wasn't thinking about long-term effects or unintended consequences. And I think that's an ongoing problem in the era of social networking.
Back in April, Cult of Mac wrote a feature on an app called Girls Near Me, which used Facebook and FourSquare location data to help users find people in the area and pull up their profiles. Charlie Stross had further comments.
At minimum, the app had potential for simple skeeze -- sliding up to a girl at a bar and pretending to coincidentally be interested in the same things she was. At maximum, well, full-on stalking. The app was pulled in pretty short order, but the app was just an aggregator -- people still post location data and personal information; that information is still out there, whether or not it's aggregated by a skeezy-looking app.
People post about being on vacation, and their houses get robbed. You'll recall I was out of town this past weekend -- but I didn't mention it until I got back. (I even scheduled two posts to go up while I was gone, to keep up my post-a-day streak.) Now, as I said, I don't think my current address is available anywhere on the Internet -- and my readership is far too small to pose any kind of statistical likelihood that somebody's waiting for a chance to rob my house -- but at this point it's just a best-practices thing.
I dunno. Guess I'm not going anywhere in particular with this. It's just weird, the amount of shit that's out there, the amount that's accurate, the amount that once was, and the amount that's just pure goofy-ass bullshit. (Still wondering where that aggregator got the idea I'm in my forties.) Something to think about.