Everyone who uses the Internet creates a “profile” of information about themselves. Some of which may be good, some of it bad, some career-related, some about your personal identity, some about your personal life. Hopefully, you’re proud of most of it. You may be indifferent about some of it. You may also be ashamed of some of it. But there it is, for better or worse, your Internet profile; for all to see.
How can this be, you might ask. Most of us don’t purposely advertise information about ourselves on the Internet, so how is this profile created? The “profile” I speak of isn’t a single document or dossier about us that resides in a file somewhere on the Internet. No, it’s not that simple. It is an aggregation of snippets of information about us that, by themselves seem harmless and uninteresting. But when aggregated by a search engine or a web-crawler; this information becomes a profile of our lives.
For example, when I Google my name I would expect to see results that refer to my blog and the many posts I’ve made, and it does. However, it also provides a roadmap of my career from the time soon after the Internet started. Did I publish an autobiography of myself? No. But announcements of my appointments to positions, minutes of meetings I participated in, documents I edited or authored, and anyone’s comments about any of the above that was posted to a website is there in the results of the search. This information is publicly available. There is also a wealth of information about me that resides in health records, banking transactions, credit bureau information…that if hacked, would also add important “pixels” to this electronic picture of me. I think you’re probably getting the idea of what I’m trying to express by now…the information about us is publicly available.
We should care very much about this globally available information that forms a vivid image of us for all to interpret—rightly or wrongly. This Internet profile can be used to investigate us when applying for a job; to substantiate a resume, or to check what kind of character we possess…think YouTube videos made during a drunken stupor while in college, or that not fully clothed photo of you that someone posted somewhere. Either of these examples could cost you a job opportunity without you ever knowing it. And as important and potentially damaging this example seems; the next example is worse.
Suppose a criminal used the profile of information on your life to steal your identity and consequently drained your bank accounts and created immense debt in your name. That scenario is entirely possible. There are criminal organizations that are expert in using information about you and your life to impersonate you to financial institutions in order to convince them that you (they) want to make a withdrawal, need an additional box of blank checks, want to open a new line of credit or open credit card accounts. The bottom line to this scenario is that you could, at best, have your life interrupted until you clear up all the results of the crime; or at worse, losing everything, in terms of assets, that you have.
What can we do about this? Well, the answer is; “it depends”. If you already have information similar to that mentioned above, there may be very little you can do. Once the information is out in the Internet it’s almost impossible to find and eradicate it. However, if you’ve not had much information “posted” on the Internet, you may protect your future by following some very common sense practices to stay out of trouble. The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) has some very good tips in their article Guidelines for Publishing Information Online.
This is a very serious issue that all Internet users should know about, and use their common sense when interacting online. Always be aware of what information you’re putting online and how it may be used in the future. Take heed to the US-CERT and other information in articles on this subject and be careful out there…be very careful.
What are your experiences on this issue? Do you have additional tips on this subject? Please comment on this article; we all learn from each other when our views and opinions are shared.
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