I’ve been “online” since sometime in 1992. Back then, I used Prodigy. Prodigy was an early on-line service that existed before AOL started. It was a private service that you paid a monthly charge to interact with other Prodigy members. The Internet was in its infancy back then so everything you did was on the Prodigy service itself. For some reason, I even remember my username, BSMJ35A.
After Prodigy, I played around on local BBS sites, then I moved onto AOL, and eventually the Internet. I was 17 when I got my first internet email address and back then, the Internet was a wide open digital frontier waiting to find its place in the world.
That was half my life ago… Now, in 2013, the Internet is everywhere. Everything we do is in someway connected and viewable to the right people. I think by now, most people understand that privacy is a concern online, but how much do you really think about it?
Just this week, I received two resumes from two potential candidates at my job. For the sake of “privacy”, everything I’m about to say is made up, but the point is still the same. Even though its illegal to ask the age of a potential new employee, its usually pretty easy to guess their age based on information from their resume. I guessed that this person was a couple of years younger than me and I know they lived in a nearby suburb, so I fired up Google and did some searching.
Within 5 minutes, I found this person’s parents name, their spouse, address, the exact date they bought their house and how much they paid, I found an article from Chicago Tribune where they were interviewed regarding a local business. I found results of a 5K run they did, along with school activities while they were in college. I found information from their prior employer (I knew this anyway from the resume, but I would have found it online had I didn’t know). I found meeting minutes from meetings they went to while at this previous job.
Now, none of this is incriminating information, and more than likely, this person would have gladly volunteered it to anyone who would ask. But the point is, I wasn’t even trying that hard.
There are sites like spokeo, mylife, and many others that charge fees for more detailed information about pretty much anyone. I looked myself up on spokeo and found my childhood home, my mom an dad’s name, along with other information about me.
Then I did a little more digging to see what kind of tracks I have left online over the years. Here is a post I made almost 12 years ago on June 19, 2001 on a home theater forum:
Here is a music review website I created over 10 years ago that is archived by web.archive.org:
Thankfully, I’ve behaved over the years online, but what happened if I was involved in controversial or illegal activities and posted hateful things online? This stuff would still be here for everyone to see.
Think this doesn’t really happen? Search Google for “teacher fired for stripping” and you’ll find several reports of teachers who were fired over things they did years earlier.
Its not a stretch to think that this won’t continue to happen. We are at a point in our lives where literally everything we do is recorded, posted, and archived online. Amazon has a cloud storage service called S3 that launched in 2010. As of November 2012, they had 1.3 Trillion objects archived and they add more than a billion new objects each day. An object can be anything from a single text file, to a JPG from a digital camera, to a multi-gigabyte database file.
Amazon won’t reveal the total capacity of their S3 service, but they have pricing tiers for a single user which exceeds 5 Petabytes…. that’s 5 MILLION GIGABYTES…for ONE USER. And Amazon is just one company.
Think a Petabyte is big? Well, that’s nothing compared to the total storage capacity of the entire Internet. No one even knows how much data is out there, but whatever that number is, its much larger than a Petabyte…beyond Petabyte, is Exabyte, then Zettabyte, then Yottabyte. How big is 1 Yottabyte? 1 YB is equal to one septillion (10 ^ 24) bytes, which is one quadrillion gigabytes!
Knowing that this stuff is out there, and everyday it gets cheaper and easier to store stuff, be careful what you post online. Parents can no longer just give their kids access to a computer, tablet, or smartphone and not stay in touch with the things their kids do online. This applies to adults too. Adults are just as bad as kids online and don’t realize that literally everything you do is being recorded and archived for future generations to see.
Generations from now, no one will need to make a family tree or do any level of ancestry. A simple Google search will be enough to tell our future relatives everything they would ever need to know about us.
The world has changed, if you participate in online discussions or social media, you must be aware of what you say and do, because you never know who will be reading it and what implications it could have on you tomorrow, next month, or next year.