Wanted: Volunteers for an experiment in invasion of online privacy

We’ve all heard the horror stories: an innocent citizen of the web has intimate details of their private life revealed to their employer or their spouse by an unknown malcontent. An upstanding member of a community discovers that his identity has been stolen and used to open credit cards, and those cards have been maxed out at the local strip club.

But how easy is it, really, for someone to find out private details of your life using nothing but the internet? Are these tales of horror only urban legends, magnified in the telling, or can anyone with a bit of patience find our where you live and what you bought at your local grocery store last Thursday?

The invitation

I’m researching an article for the Mail & Guardian about online privacy and I need five fearless volunteers to help me prove (or disprove) this thesis:

Anyone with a modicum of intelligence and patience can invade your privacy online.

I’m asking for volunteers firstly because it’s just good manners to ask for permission before trying such a thing, and secondly because I strongly suspect that it may be a criminal offence to do so otherwise.

Of course volunteering comes with some guarantees:

  1. I won’t publish your real name or any specific details about you (unless you want me to)
  2. I will warn you about each step of the process so that you can opt out at any time
  3. I won’t share specifics about any of the volunteers with anyone – even my editor
  4. I won’t save any specifics on cloud services or flash drives
  5. I will destroy any details I do find after the experiment is finished. And I mean really destroyed – as in deleted and overwritten several times so that it can’t be recovered.

I’m still working out exactly how I’ll be doing such invasions so volunteers will be part of that process. Think of this as a free security review for your online presence. If I can find uncomfortable things about you, then pretty much anyone can.

If you’re keen please fill in the form below (it’s secure – wink wink) and I’ll get hold of you soon. If you hate forms you can always @ me on Twitter and I’ll get hold of you that way.