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Since Facebook has us all thinking about just how much of our personal information is out on the web, I conducted a simple experiment this morning:
I entered my name into Google
The first group of items that returned were no surprise: Links to articles I’d be quoted in, old stories on me from back when I was in the business world, who I am on Twitter, etc. I expected that.
But then came wave after wave of sites that claimed to have all the information on me going back to the time of my birth, and for just $49, they’d sell it all to you. Many offered teasers in the first paragraph, and after scrolling through them I saw not only my name, but how old I am, my address, my home phone, the names of my wife and daughter, every town I’ve ever lived in, the addresses and home phone numbers of those places, etc.
About the only thing I didn’t see was my cell phone number, social security number and blood type. The rest is out there. Most even offer you the opportunity to click on a link near my address so you can see an aerial photo of my neighborhood and directions for how to drive right to my home so as to not inconvenience you if you decide to stalk me.
This is more than Facebook. It’s like every credit card application, every company you’ve ever registered with, every time you’ve interacted with the business world, someone has sold your information, and companies out there compile it in a database and try to sell it.
It’s like, why even try?
There was, at least, one humorous aspect of the search. I’ve long known and mentored my daughter, friends and anyone who would listen that the internet is in pen, so don’t put something out there you don’t wish to see years later. And I’m a sarcastic wise guy who happened to have fallen in love with photoshop when the product first came out. As such, I have gotten quite good at it, and find it quite an asset in fixing poorly taken pictures, putting together graphics presentations, and blending pictures and graphic elements together when space is tight.
But as I warn friends, a photoshop master can use his skills for good. And he can use them for mischief.
One such incident came many years ago when it seemed like it was snowing from mid-December through February. My old friend Wayde Byard, the public information officer for Loudoun County Schools, is the voice you hear when school is cancelled, and I kidded him one day that I spent more time that year listening to his voice on the phone than my wife’s.
So when the next year rolled around, I found myself looking forward to HBO’s Game Of Thrones. The cable network was promoting the series online with graphics that showed character Ned Stark and had the tagline “Winter Is Coming.” So being a bit bored, I photoshopped Wayde’s head on Ned Stark, changed one of the graphics to “Game Of Phones” and left the “Winter Is Coming” line. I emailed it to Wayde, and also posted it on social media, since Wayde and I follow each other on Twitter and Facebook.
A few nights later, I’m watching Channel 4 news, glance up and think “what is that graphic doing on Channel 4?” They were doing a story on what a weather legend Wayde had become and were interviewing him. A few days later, the Loudoun Times-Mirror asked for permission to use it in a story they were doing.
This practical joke, I thought, has legs.
So I did a bunch more. From putting Wayde’s head on a Chia Pet to even creating his own bobblehead. It was a running joke between Wayde and I that ran its course over a few months and then it stopped. I had actually forgotten how many I had done because this was a good 6 to 8 years ago.
No worry. The internet never forgets. On some sites they were all packaged together along with other people who put together similar memes. There were so many, a search for my name might mislead you into thinking I’m Wayde Byard, since so many of those graphics showed up.
So here’s the moral of the story about my internet search: You can try to be careful with your data, but it’s probably going to end up like trying to hide your money on a pirate ship. Someone’s going to get it.
And never, ever mess with a photoshop master :)