January 30, 2017
Your Digital Footprint is Larger Than You May Realize
Everyone who goes online leaves a footprint. Online retailers and review sites often leave cookies that feed information about your online activity back to them. Google makes their money from tracking everything that you do and serving up ads targeted towards your observed interests, as do most other search engines. Social media like Facebook and Twitter do the same.
Microsoft Windows 10 collects massive amounts of personal data and browsing history and sends it to Microsoft. If you dig out and reset all of the settings, you can minimize that, but you can’t use Windows and eliminate it completely. Apple does the same thing, though they claim that they don’t use it for anything but making Siri work better for you.
Yet they do track and store your iPhone’s GPS data. They can draw a map of everywhere you’ve carried your phone for the last several years, and where you go reveals a lot about your life. Android users who think that Google doesn’t do the same thing haven’t looked at Google closely.
The NSA swore under oath that they didn’t collect data, but Snowden proved that they do. They now claim that it’s only metadata, but do we trust them this time?
Anybody Can Do It
It’s not just big companies and government agencies, either. It’s not difficult to take a bit of information that you know about someone and find out a lot more about them through their digital footprint.
Easiest is a search engine on what they do know. If you’re interested in someone on a forum who uses the nickname ‘sweetie18’, doing a web search on the nickname will turn up other forums where the handle is in use, and they’re all likely to be the same person. Sending a bit of text that looks like spam to the common email sites like gmail, hotmail, yahoo and the like with the username ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ may reveal their email address. Any mail sent that does not return a ‘mail undeliverable’ is an address in use by someone.
If you can find one profile picture, any site like tineye.com will help you look for the same image wherever it has been used. If it shows up on Facebook, it also reveals what they told Facebook that their real name is. Take that back to the search engines, and their life opens up pretty quickly.
This doesn’t count the information that we leave about ourselves on social media. Whatever you say on Facebook or Twitter is a matter of public record.