Your Privacy vs Technology

Author: Steven Neiland

Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

How much data is being gathered about your internet habits right this minute? Do you know. What about on this very website? Do you think that you are anonymous because you are sitting in the "privacy" of your own home?

How Much Do I Know About You

As a simple example lets see how much information my home built webserver can gather about you. Here is a little test page I put together in about 30 minutes. It demonstrates how simple it is to gather data that can be used to identify you. Who Are You Demo.

As you can see the webserver my site runs on can and does gather your IP address, what site referred you (ie the site where you found the link that brought you here), your web browser version and which pages you visited and for how long. This data is stored in logs which can be converted into analytics friendly structures. It is then a simple matter of checking against a location database to figure out where you are.

Before you say it, this was all done with freely available software which is used by every webserver on the planet. Nothing I just showed you was uncommon or illegal. In fact it was just the tip of the iceberg.

What About Mobile Devices

Now you may say that you are safe because you use a mobile device, but even that is no guarantee of privacy. In fact your mobile device is even more likely to give up your location as many now come with built-in gps systems that broadcast your location to cell towers. This is supposed to be for helping manage data traffic. Some mobile browsers even send your gps location to websites you visit (although they have to ask the first time).

Your Photos Know Where You Have Been

Its not only your computer or your phone that tells the world who and where you are, so do the photos you take with your Phone. Thats right, your digital photos (can) store information about where and when a photo was taken. They even embed the make and model of the device used to take the photo.

Any geo-location enabled device (such as an iPhone, Blackberry or Android Device) that you use to take photos can embed that location data in the images files themselves. This location data can be used to identify where you were when you took this photo. Just think about all those iPhone photos you uploaded to Facebook...

If you dont believe me, here is a little system I put together to demonstrate. Geo Map Photo.

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