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Fear of the Internet, Loss of Privacy, and Risky Behavior


Every time I hear people panic about their addresses and phone numbers showing up “ON THE INTERNET – AGHHHH” I want to pat them on their backs and say, “it’s all right – but here is what you really need to worry about.”

Yes, you can, and should, work on those online “privacy settings” and stop answering those intrusive questions or even applying for credit cards, but, not to dishearten you further, keep in mind that even if you clear your data from one databank, most of them “refresh” their data at a bare minimum of 4x a year so even if you delete your info or “hide” it, the information will likely pop up again in a few months. Surprise!

Put yourself in the databanks’ positions. They have a lot of competition and each one wants the best, most up-to-date, and, dare I say intrusive information to sell to the highest bidder or the most bidders.

There are a lot (!) of “public” records investigative books and websites, but for a (relatively) straightforward librarian approach for the person new to sleuthing, I like the King County Law Library research links.

They have classes on:

1) “Public Sleuthing on Social Networks: Learn how to search social networking sites like My Space and Facebook”

2) “Skiptracing: Finding Business and Personal Information: Learn how to do skip tracing online using free, publicly-accessible databases

3) They also have their public sleuthing research guide up on their website.

And, then there are books like this one:

“The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet: Conducting Effective Investigative & Legal Research on the Internet,” 11th edition, by Carole Levitt, J.D., M.L.S & Mark E. Rosch

We have few secrets anymore; could Woodward and Felt have kept their meetings secret if they tried to do so today the way they did back in the 70’s? We’ll never know, but I doubt it.

Have a heart to heart, so to speak, talk with your favorite investigator who will have you sinking further and further into your chair as you listen. I remember talking to someone who worked for Kroll, in the 90’s, before the web went world-wide. You didn’t have many secrets then either; you just didn’t know it. Now you do.

There is little one can do about some of this, but one can still take affirmative action to protect one’s truly personal info, as anyone who reads about ID theft knows. We can’t eliminate all dangers in life, but we can minimize them.

Other important things to do are a) keep a healthy sense of perspective, b) fasten that seat belt, and c) read a good book or blog on the subject of why we are afraid:

1) “The culture of fear: why Americans are afraid of the wrong things,” Barry Glassner, 2009

2) “Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear,” Dan Gardner, 2008

3) Schneier on Security: Perceived Risk vs. Actual Risk

And remember, shhhhhhh.

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