They say there’s no such thing as true anonymity online, and I’m about to show you just how close that is to the truth.
So let’s start with the basics.
Once you’ve run a Google search, you’ll have a starting point from which to work. Let’s hope there’s no privacy settings on anything you find! Even better if the first few search results are something dodgy.
Don’t forget to flick over to Google images and pull anything incriminating from there.
People often forget to check their Facebook privacy settings, so this is a good place to start. Save any photos you find, and take note if they’ve left their work or home details public. If you can find a birthday, you’re in the money.
If they use flickr, twitpic or similar, and have left geotags on their images, you’ve really hit the jackpot. Most people don’t think to turn off the location metadata attached to their photos, even though the ‘off’ is probably right there in the settings. From here you can get their workplace, home, and if you work quickly enough, the bar they just snapped that photo at.
If you are using LinkedIn to stalk people, don’t forget to log out first, as you can see who looked at your profile right on the homepage. Luckily most people don’t require login to look at their profile, which could be remedied in the account settings.
Lots of people don’t delete old social accounts, and these can be a treasure-trove of information. They really should go in and delete them, or email the website if they’ve forgotten their login details, but most don’t do that. Lucky for us, eh?
Reverse Image searches
Thanks to Tineye, and now Google images, you can drop an image in, and find where it exists all over the web. Most people don’t give second thought to what images they upload, and the privacy settings on those images, so you’ll easily be able to locate multiple places across the internet where the person has been. Limiting the number of personal images uploaded would start to solve this problem. Checking privacy settings would also help.
If they have their own domain, put it into a whois search. Out will pop their most personal details – usually a home address, email, and phone number. Lucky for our research, lots of people don’t think to mask their registration details, use a P O Box, or supply their work rather than home address. A fix is as easy as changing their details with the company who registered their domain.
The Companies Office
If they own a company, or are a shareholder, you can find a lot of details about them using the Companies Office search. Again, fixing this is as simple as using your lawyer or accountants office for your contact, or having a P O Box address.
If they own a house, it’s a matter of public record that for a small fee, someone can find details on a property, including if there are any caveats or mortgages. Even if your house is in a trust, the trustees names – not the name of the trust – appear on the title. The only real way around this is to put the house in the name of a company, and even then a search of the Companies Office will provide the directors. There’s no real way to stop this, so it’s important to be aware of it.
If you couldn’t tell – this is a piss take, although the information contained is correct. It is so important to protect yourself online, so take the time to see how much of you is out there.
Don’t just blindly assume the website you’re signing up to will protect your information, and when registering, use an email address you don’t mind being public. It may also pay to get a P O Box. It’s fine if you don’t mind certain details being public – as long as you’re smart about it.
They say there’s no such thing as true anonymity, and thanks to the age of effective search and tricky privacy settings, it might just be true.
Footnote: Since writing this, Julius Maskell has informed me of a couple of other simple searches you should be aware of – online white pages, library’s electoral rolls, city council rates property searches and car licence plate searches. Remember to opt-out of these. Speak to your local council, your telco and the LTSA.