Type the right words into Google and up comes a trove of files documenting an acrimonious divorce between two business executives in San Diego. Support payments are calculated based on a $450,000 income. The husband accuses the wife of being a “shop-a-holic.” He lists all her possessions, including furs worth $15,000. He’s eager to finalize the divorce, because, as he writes, he was to marry again in June. All this is personal, private information, no longer even up on the original Web site, yet stored by Google for everyone to see, including friends, family and business associates who enter in the divorced couple’s names. When reached by phone, the husband says he is “stunned and shocked” that FORBES is interested in the matter at all.
i’m a big believer in realistic privacy.
For those wondering what “realistic privacy” means, it’s that if i’ve gone to proper measures regarding securing information, i expect that information to remain secure. It also means that there are certain things that i no longer consider private (e.g. my social security number) since that bit of identification information has been openly distributed to literally thousands of groups or individuals. No, i’m not dumb enough to post it here, but suffice to say that any sufficiently bad guy could easily get it. (Heh, interesting commentary about Social Security numbers being your national i.D. card and how the right wing would freak if it was actually labeled as a National i.D. card. My, how times have changed.)
i don’t consider “proper security” to be things like changing it’s name any more than i feel it’s secure by leaving my birth certificate on my desk covered by a piece of paper. If i have information, particularly electronic information, that i wish to keep secure, i usually encrypt it and protect access to it by limiting the individuals who have access to it via some authentification schema.
i don’t put it up on open servers.
Thing is, far too many people do, and that never ceases to surprise me. i guess it’s the same reason that i’m always surprised to find out how many folks don’t run firewalls or turn off their file sharing.
For what it’s worth, i actually don’t mind if search engines are aggressive in what they find and cache. There’s far too much legitimate stuff that’s equally difficult to find (e.g. crap buried behind flash interfaces or poorly built web pages) that should be cataloged. If you don’t want something crawled, keep it off the web.
i found out about this article from a posting over at WebmasterWorld which featured two camps. One that seems to believe that material in the public domain should stay private until it’s openly declared to be in the public domain, and others screaming that this is an invasion of privacy.
i’m confused by why this is an issue.
Public websites are just that, public. The various (legitimate) spiders out there don’t actively try to find information you haven’t disclosed to anyone else. The whole argument that the public shouldn’t be allowed into an area that is not cordened off from the public seems silly.
One poster had said that it was as if someone had created a tool that took pictures of people unless they wore two sets of underware. Another said that it was like someone taking pictures of you in private activity at home because you didn’t have the curtains drawn. Both of these were not exactly the best arguments. The first because search engines don’t do anything that sophisticated. They take “pictures” of “people” regardless of if they’re naked or not.
If folks insist on the house metaphor, leaving unsecured open documents on an equally unsecured server is like dancing naked in your livingroom with the curtains open and a freeway driving by outside, and then being “shocked” that someone talked about it or their picture turned up in the newspaper.
Look, the web is public, so is anonymous FTP and (frankly) unsecured email. Your privacy is ultimately your responsibility, not someone else’s. If you have materials you wish to keep secure, then by all means secure them.
i just wonder if these folks walk around wearing t-shirts with their credit card numbers on them as well.