The idea of our lack of privacy never went away, though, and I have spent some time on and off thinking about this. Then, last night, I decided that I would try a little experiment: I chose someone I went to high school with, someone I hadn't kept in touch with, and I tried to find information on the person. I looked for someone with the following criteria:
- Female. I chose this because females are typically harder to find than males due to name changes caused by marriages.
- Someone with a fairly common name, unlike mine. A unique name would make the search too easy.
- Not on any social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, etc.)
- No obvious results returned in Google Searches.
I had to immediately eliminate the first three people I chose because I found information very quickly on them.When I searched for the fourth person using her first and last name I got nothing. Nada. Zip. No Facebook page. No work listing. Nothing. This would be my person.
Just to make sure, I logged into Facebook and did a search anyway. Nothing. I then went to the Facebook section for my high school and went to the year I knew she had graduated--maybe her name would be there, spelled diiferently or something. Nope.I then remembered what I thought was the middle initial of this woman. I couldn't remember her middle name, but I did remember the middle initial. I ran a search on just her first name and middle initial and then came up with WAY too many results. So I ran the search again, this time with quotation marks around the first name and middle initial, and with the word "Kentucky" following. I got a number of hits, and I scanned down them. About four or five entries down I hit pay dirt. It appeared to be some kind of geneaological site, and it listed the woman's name followed by a middle name. THAT was her middle name, I thought to myself. Also listed in the text that could be seen on the Google page were the names of two of her brothers and her father.
I clicked on the link, and it led me to a scanned page of a very poorly written 2002 history book from an eastern Kentucky county historical society. The book didn't just give me (very poorly written) information about this woman. It actually told me the (very poorly written) family history of her father's family, where in Europe her grandfather had emigrated from, what he did for a living when he came to the United States, and then it listed a family tree, all the way down to and including this woman's husband and her two chidren. And once I had the woman's married name, the sky was the limit. In another fifteen minutes I had the following information:
- Where she worked
- Her email address at work
- A spreadsheet from a government entity that included a list of 11 different trainings she had attended from 2006-2008. These trainings gave me a fairly good idea of what she did in her job.
- Her birthdate was included on a spreadsheet from a volunteer organization, along with her height and weight (She's apparently put on a few pounds since high school). The spreadsheet was a list of participants in a charity 10k run that happened in May of this year. Why it was on the Internet, I don't know. My guess is that the organization has no idea that the spreadsheet is available for anyone to see.
- There were several other links to charity runs this person has participated in over the last two years. Apparently she's trying to shed those pounds.
- A website dedicated to finding people teased me with information by telling me what city the woman lived in. It wanted me to pay $19.95 to find anything else about her. I immediately left that website and went to a white pages website, typed in the name of the city and the woman's name, and got her home address and telephone number for free.
- I used Google Maps to search for her house, and then I used the "Street View" to actually look at a 360 degree representation of her house. It was a pretty nice house in a pretty nice neighborhood. The car in the driveway was kind of beaten up, though. Maybe it was a friend's. Or her 17 year old daughter's. I know her daughter is 17 because...
- The middle school where her children went to school had posted a page in honor of a teacher who was named "Teacher of the Month" during the 2008-2009 school year. This woman had written a letter to the principal about this teacher and her letter had been the impetus for the teacher receiving the award. The web page honoring the teacher included an electronic copy of the letter, which mentioned the ages and names of the woman's two children.
- The website dedicated to finding people actually showed her husband's name alongside hers, and it listed two cities she lived in, one until 2006 and one from 2006 until now. When I clicked on her husband's name, it listed the same city until 2006 but then a different city from 2006-2007 and then another city in another state from 2007 until now. This suggested that she MIGHT be divorced or separated from her husband. Apparently she kept the married name, though.
Who turned out not to be so invisible after all.
Does this bother anyone else? Is the ready access to all of this kind of information worth the privacy we have to sacrifice? Or am I overly worried about this?