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The post I wouldn’t write – online stalking

So, I’ve been working through this thought experiment for a few years now…

1) You post information online about yourself in various places
2) It gets aggregated by bot or human
3) Bad guy decides you’re worth screwing with
4) Bad guy finds all this information and can act on it accordingly

Pretty straightforward.

(We also realize that #1 and #2 are not necessary for #3 and #4 to happen)

Today, I find a story on Slashdot with all these elements represented:

Death by Google Calendar: How I Identified you to rob you

(Apparently, it too has undergone some reconsideration – note the title vs. the URL)

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.

There’s nothing really interesting in the story except the way it played out.

I mean, we know that “public information” means it’s public. If someone decides to post something online, then it’s online. It can be crawled, saved, searched, found, archived and refound later. It can also be aggregated, resyndicated, blogged or forwarded. There are entire websites devoted to this aggregation of interesting things – it’s how I found the post in the first place.

That said, there’s nothing new in what was posted. What’s interesting here is how he went about doing it and how little foresight he displays by using real information about someone.

The poster himself now has to deal with the emotional trauma (apparently not so much) of having posted the personal information of this young woman and her housemates. Perhaps more importantly, the young woman herself has to deal with the emotional and potentially physical fallout of being made the posterchild of “How to stalk someone 101”. This is not fair to her at all. And the author should have considered this before making her the object of his ‘research’.

While he and his two friends are positioning their site as “Tips for Life”, they’ve crossed the invisible but morally obvious line of someone else’s personal space. This young woman’s sense of identity and safety has been violated by this posting of personal information. Her trust in the world has probably been knocked down a notch or four. This, to me, is an unacceptable use of the power of “making a point” in any public forum, especially one that’s electronic and archived. The author neglected to consider this (we hope) before making her an example. If the consideration was made and somehow deemed insufficient, then it’s even worse.

Additionally, the comments attached to the original post eventually included a message from the girl’s friend who first woke her with this information on a holiday weekend as well as messages from the girl herself and a close friend. You can read the frustration and loss of control in their words.

First of all, being the topic of discussion suddenly, I would have greatly appreciated a heads-up on this whole article before hving [sic] a friend call me at 6am to alert me that I’ve been publicly cyber-stalked.

Secondly, I admit my own stupidity for listing the calendar as public, a problem that has quickly been fixed, but two things: you could have

1. notified me before posting this article so I could have locked my calendar before having the whole world view it, and

2. used a PSEUDONYM?? For somebody not “thinking bad guy thoughts,” you’ve already endangered me and those who live around/with me by posting my name and screen shots of my calendar.

So thank you in advance for all the lovely stalkers and real “bad guys” out there who now have this information thanks you you. I realize you used my calendar to make a point, but you have also seriously upset me by ACTUALLY endangering me now that slashdot and whoever the hell else has read this article.

I’ve been wanting to post examples of how not to post personal information online for a long time. I’ve wanted to share my own Tips for Life but in every case, have come to the conclusion that it’s not fair to single anyone out. I can only sleep at night if I’m not part of the problem.

Teaching a “Paranoia 101” course might be in my future at some point, but I will definitely not be using previously unaggregated and obscure personal information of young women whom I’ve not contacted ahead of time and asked for consent.

I agree with the original author – be smart, be vigilant, don’t post things you’re not willing to actually let the whole world see.

But I also feel very strongly that the author, in this case, has crossed a very important line and should realize the instructive benefit afforded by his post does not outweigh the personal trauma caused to this young woman. It’s not fair and there are better ways to make a point.

The network brings us closer – but we’re still people and we should consider our actions.

Like she said, he’s really no better at this point than the actual bad guys who might use this information against her.

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