Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Your Anonymity and Information Sharing

The one thing that ruins our anonymity is our need and desire to be able to find things again. Think about the last time you needed to get something off your chest. Where did you release this tension? If you wrote (using your hand and a pen) in a personal journal then you placed this information into a written form where you would be able to look back at it later. If you wrote a status message on a social networking account you shared it with friends who could look back and laugh about your outburst. Maybe you emailed a friend who you knew could give you emotional support. Perhaps you typed it up in a journal you keep on your computer.

All of these things have now destroyed your anonymity. As highlighted in many movies around the world a personal journal can be found or even sought after by prying eyes. Brought to light by recent news reports we now know that every status message you place on Facebook is kept indefinitely and could be shared with law enforcement without your knowledge.

If you took the email method then you have lost all hope of anonymity. Even if your friend is the only one with access to her email you have still unknowingly shared the contents of the email with several email servers (which store information) and legally you have no right to the expectation of privacy for the document. The email was tagged with uniquely identifying information from your computer and again tagged with information from each server it crossed and once it arrived at your friends email it was tagged again. That is a lot of information you never intended to share with entire companies - right?

If you saved the journal entry on your computer it is tagged with information as well. Some of the information includes the time and date of the document. If you investigate further into your computer directory, you can see that it also gets tagged with the user who was logged onto the computer and information from the program to identify you. So if you logged into a program it will have your username for the program stored in the file. Word processing programs may include your "author" name and any other information you have in the program that is meant to identify you professionally.

Once you enter the online world (other than email), your anonymity is further compromised. The moment you click "sign in" or you open up your web browser, you are sharing your personal information with your internet service provider (ISP) and possibly the site that you are visiting.
Your ISP records information from your computer to identify you and recognize you as a paying customer. Many websites also track where customers are coming from (city, state, and more) for marketing and advertising purposes. Though most of this is not malicious, you are still unknowingly sharing information with the company hosting the website. If they have analytic programs installed you could also be sharing it with a third party company.

The amount of information you share online is endless. Most of it you won't ever realize you are sharing or even think about. Companies frequently record chat sessions, status updates, tweets, internet account information and location information. Your information is constantly being harvested. So while the person you sent the email to may not look to see who your internet service provider is when they read the email, you better believe that someone out there somewhere is checking. They use this information to customize ads to you and so they get as specific as the law will allow - or as specific as they believe they can get away with.

If you made a phone call or sent a text message, you are not anonymous either. Both are recorded and tagged as coming from your specific phone -- often logged by data and unique numbers inside the individual telephonic device -- as well as identifying information from the cell tower it was picked up by which includes location information. The list of electronic gadgets that give you an illusion of being anonymous yet actually reveal more information about you than you would ever give a stranger keeps on growing.

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