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.
Putting It All Together
So at this stage you can see that we freely give out a lot of personal information about ourselves to a lot of people we dont really know to be used in ways we cant track. There is a lot of potential for misuse. The really scary thing though is when all this information starts to get linked up.
I run a small personal website with virtually no resources and I can find out a great deal about you if you visit (and I was really bothered). Now imagine a company like Google or Facebook or Microsoft or Yahoo.
So What Can A Corporation Like Google Do?
Taking Google as an example (Yahoo and Microsoft have similar capabilities) . Do you know how many websites you visit have google analytics installed? This is a piece of software which is great for web developers as it gives them (including me) free analytics data about site visitors. However if you take it to the next logical step you see that it also gives Google a huge amount of data on the browsing habits of individuals.
Unlike a single site, Google can potentially track you from site to site as long as each site uses the analytics plugin (and many now do). Even if one site does not, the next site you visit can potentially know where you last were depending on if you followed a direct link. This can be linked into the search terms you type into the search engine to build a more complete profile of who you are.
Question: Did you ever wonder why the adds that appeared on some sites seemed so appropriate for you?
In addition to analytics, corporations such as Google are building a database of where hardware devices are physically located. See here. This along with your mobile phone/tablet make it very easy to find you. This technology is how I was able to figure out where you were on that demo page.
New Technologies Keep Emerging
I wish I could stop here and say this is all we have to worry about, but progress waits for nobody. Every single day new and inventive ways of tracking, recording and identifying us are invented. This is too often combined with a complete lack of respect for the individual.
I hate to keep naming a particular company but Facebook in particular has a less than stellar record when it comes to its users privacy. It was only recently that we realized that Facebook has rolled out a facial recognition feature that allows you to be identified in photos.
This is a seriously creepy feature in the wrong hands and I know I was never told about it when this feature was enabled. Yes when I found out about it I was able to opt out, but wouldn't it have been nice to be given the choice to opt-in instead of having to opt-out. And what about the photos I have already been tagged in, does that data get erased?