POP (Protection of Privacy)- and The Cautionary Tale of Tara Hurdler


November 19, 2015 by readlisaread

You have none, not anymore, not unless you are truly living off the grid (not just camping), and you have managed to avoid social media and the Internet in general. And even then, I bet a trail could be found to you….

I offer you this case in point, gentle reader, and while you may question my motivation, you can certainly believe what I say to be true, and if you imagine my actions as being of malice rather than simple curiosity, you will see why I share today’s tale.

Recently I made a old/new friend.  We had known each other as teenagers, but some 30 years had passed before we connected again, via, of course, FaceBook. I love social media– I spend my days immersed in it, both for work and for fun, and I celebrate the amazing connections that can be and are made every hour.  From local lost dogs to long time lost friends, from cameras left behind on picnic tables, to people searching for family members they never knew, other people reach out and strangers step up and make meaningful connections.

And so this friend and I shared the updates of our lives on FaceBook, argued a little politics, talked about travel– all the things you would investigate in a face to face conversation with an old friend, but instead of a few eavesdroppers in a coffee shop, our conversation is overheard by all of our followers. Now, it’s germane to the story to note that my friend had fewer than a dozen followers on FaceBook, where my connections are in the hundreds, and I have hundreds more on Twitter, and several dozen on LinkedIn as well. My old/new friend, despite my efforts to offer coaching, never fully warmed up to living the online life, and closed the FaceBook account, claiming the substance and quality of real conversation was lost a midst the froth, fluff and cat videos.  And so our connection was essentially severed.

Here’s were it gets interesting and a little creepy.

In the short time my friend and I had to catch up, I had learned a few things– my friend’s occupation, interests and hobbies,  sorts of vehicles in the family, and the general sort of geographic location of home, as well as a few favourite holiday destinations. One day, shortly after my friend exited FaceBook, I was trying to remember the name of a BBQ house in Seattle we had spoken of.  Eventually, by searching key words and remembering dates, I found my friend’s Trip Advisor review of the restaurant.  Another review made mention of the Portland Marathon, and reminded me that running Marathons was an interest we totally did not share, in any form, but because I was in an investigative mood, I looked up past results of a few marathons I knew my friend had run. It took seconds to find, and while I was looking at my friend’s results, I remembered that a training buddy had run at least one of those events, and so I looked for a finish time close to my friend’s and narrowed it down to 3 other participants, who were in the right age and gender category. A few more searches and clicks, and I knew which was the correct buddy, because I found the account on LinkedIn that revealed their shared occupation. I hadn’t known my friend was on LinkedIn, and in fact, as I investigated both their names, I realized these probably weren’t personal accounts, but had been posted by their respective companies. I wondered if they even knew they were searchable there.

And it was all very interesting, to me, to see how much I could find out about a complete stranger one rainy Sunday afternoon. So Tara Hurdler (a pseudonym) if you are reading this, I am sorry for creeping your life that day.

None of the information I uncovered had been posted by her, and although she also does not have a FaceBook or Twitter account (that I found), she is still “findable”. I know her hobby, her place of employ, and quite probably I could 411 her home address and phone number. And I was not motivated by anything other than idle curiosity.

So… my advice to you, if The Tale of Tara Hurdler makes you uneasy…. go forward with the assumption that your privacy is not inviolate, and embrace the power of media to guide and shape your own online life, and know what is out there with your name on it.

Because it will rain again, and I may be in a Nancy Drew sort of mood that day…


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