You probably think you're pretty clever about what sort of personal information you reveal on the Internet. Sure, we all have a drunken electric slide pic out there, but it's not like the average person is handing out their address and phone number to everyone they meet in some shady chatroom. So your personal life is pretty secure, right?
Pictured: total safety.
Totally. Unless somebody knows your name or has a vague idea of where you live. Because with just those little tidbits, anyone can track down your precise address, phone number, and just about all the other information that you don't exactly advertise to the universe.
And there's more than one way to do it, too. For starters, there's a site that lets you browse around a map of your community to see if anyone near you has a criminal record. The website is kind of creepy and seems to promote vigilante justice, plus they freely admit that their data isn't always accurate, so maybe that 80-year-old man with the oxygen tank who lives next door isn't really a serial rapist after all.
And if the guy doing the searching isn't a total cheapskate, there are plenty of websites out there that are willing to give out all sorts of personal info for the right price. You can get someone's address and phone number with just a couple of bucks, but if you want to get fancy you can also get their previous addresses, aliases, tax and legal history, property values, marriage and divorce records, and info on their neighbours and family members, all for around $40.
Apparently you can put a price on human life. And that price is less than a new Xbox game.
All these sites are doing is pulling together a bunch of info taken from various public records databases, but the end result is a report on your life history for anyone who cares to pay for it. Suddenly that guy who's stalking you on Facebook looks pretty harmless.
By this point in the game, you're a straight up idiot if you don't realize your boss can and will spy on you at work. You probably gave him the right to do it when you got the job, one of those forms in between the Dress Code and the Sexual Harassment Policy.
And the fact that you're probably reading this at work after sorting through a bunch of chain e-mails from your co-workers would suggest that most people are OK with this. After all, giving employees Internet access without monitoring them is basically giving them permission to spend the entire workday looking at penis trees.
Thousands of office workers just looked at a tree's dick. Welcome to the Internet.
What you probably didn't realize was that for just about $50 anyone else with a few minutes of access to your computer can monitor you just as thoroughly.
At this very second, companies like Thinkertec are making programs like SpyPal. In their words, "Invisible computer & Internet activity monitoring software!"
Thinkertec warns parents of the dangers of their children using MySpace or Xanga (which are both apparently still things) and suggesting that it's perfectly OK to thus invade your family member's privacy because you're only doing it to stop online predators. To be fair, it's probably pretty effective: nothing teaches a child to be suspicious better than spying on every little thing they do.
"Listen, my boy. Never trust The Man."
But parents aren't the only ones utilizing this stuff. For only about fifty clams, employers/spouses/super clingy computer repairmen can install this program and in return it will give up your passwords, chat conversations, screenshots with playback, weird search terms that you plug in on a whim at 3 am, everything.
Plus the software will squeal on any programs executed, clipboard activity or keystrokes typed. So, everything you ever do on a computer, ever. And all of that information will get reported to the customer at their whim... with hourly updates, if they want. For less money than a video game.
But say you do all your web surfing at home, and you live alone. Nobody's going to spy on you there, right? Well, unless your Internet service provider starts looking through your browsing history without your knowledge. And then sells your data to advertisers.
"Wow, a pop-up for a coffee cup/newspaper/stripey sweater emporium. What are the odds?"
Did you know that pretty much every Internet provider saves their customers' browsing histories? To be fair there are legitimate uses for the practice, like helping the police track down child pornography rings, or letting the RIAA sue the shit out of some guy who downloaded 3 songs several years ago. Or, you could have a situation like they had in Britain in 2006, where the country's three biggest ISPs were going to sell their customers' browsing habits to a company called Phorm to created targeted ads. Phorm, incidentally, got their start by making millions from spyware .
You can read more from Mark at Gunaxin.
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