back to article Digital data can bite you in the ass, researcher warns

When security consultant Dan Klein was culling decades-old snapshots for his digital scrap book, he specifically omitted photos taken during his college years, when some of his behaviors weren't exactly role-model material for his offspring. Left unscanned, for instance, was the picture of him wearing a tee-shirt bearing a …


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  1. Graham Marsden


    > "What do I have to hide?" he said with a shrug. "Because all that information is elsewhere, I'm not worried about publishing it."

    So he makes a graph available that shows power consumption in his home?

    Whilst he might have, say, automatic time-switched lights to make it look as if the house is occupied, a canny burglar could note that more serious power consumption, eg showers(!) didn't take place over several days and thus figure that the place is actually unoccupied and thus there's lots of unprotected computer gear just waiting to be pinched...

    Oops! I think someone's ass might have just been bitten.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So to selectively quote from your article

    "the register"

    "brandishing a six-inch switchblade"

    "can bite you in the ass"

    I think the problem is, there's a huge amount of information out there on everyone, and when you are looking to prove X is a murderer you selectively examine those particular pieces of information that correspond to [x murderer].

    In reality you're not examining a million pieces of *related* information, you're examining a million unrelated pieces of information each taken out of context.

    So a photo of a guy wearing a pot t-shirt means nothing if he was given it by a friend, but in the context of an employer looking to see if he does drugs, that then takes on a sinister light.

    It's taken out of it's real context and given a new context by the search.

    You have the presumption of guilt if that is what I am filtering for.

  3. Emo

    El Reg strikes again

    Another website brought down by El Reg!

  4. Martin Owens


    Too much information is a constant problem. happy hunting.

  5. Ken Lord

    I agree, you must have utter privacy in all cases.

    Yup, it was a very bad thing to find evidence on computers that led to the conviction of those two murders.

    Yup, it's just wrong to use people's own admissions that they committed crimes, backed by their own photos, posted on their own public web spaces to convict them of the crimes.

    We should all be able to commit any crime we want, post information about it to public places, and be permitted to get away with it, who cares about the suffering of our victims and their families!

    Dodging responsibility for our own actions - It's the American way!

  6. Gilbert Wham


    No, it's wrong, as posted above, to go hunting for information about co-workers, possible employees etc with an assumption of guilt on their part and then use possibly spurious 'evidence' to do something to adversely affect their lives. How would you feel if you were passed over for promotion, because of the political beliefs you hold being stated in a blog comment, say? Or losing your job due to your sexual orientation, discovered from your profile on a social networking site?

    Entirely different from digital traces of wrongdoing uncovered in the course of a murder investigation, no?

  7. PH

    Cuts both ways

    I was last year in a contract dispute with a certain Northern Irish web hosting company* – and the Google cache saved the day.

    The host had advertised FP server extensions installed as part of the hosting package, which is why I had signed up with them in particular – on a 12-month contract. The host then withdrew this facility without any warning and removed all relevant text about it from their site.

    When I told them I wanted the remainder of my money back as the service was no longer what I'd signed up for, they denied the FP server extensions had been made available and effectively called me a liar. Oh, what to do?

    Fortunately the Google search engine cache had a snapshot of their site offering FP extensions plus a copyright notice on the cached page showing that it was recent. This fact was passed on to the rogue host who then (still reluctantly) refunded me.

    Okay, it's not quite as good as solving a murder but hey the little guy can use feral data as a "tool" against the big boys. Now that's gotta be worth something?


    *I won't bother naming them as I'm sure Ed will wield El Red Pen.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Signal to noise Ratio

    Something I suspect will happen more and more ... as the amount of data increases (exponentially) then the usefulness of that data will decrease.

    A point in hand is the UK DNA database. How many markers does it store ? Not enough that as it grows to hold (say) 10%-15% of the population you'll start to get a number of matches to a sample from a crime scene.

    Say you get 10 matches - that's 10 people who need to be traced, and eliminated. Of which one will be on business for a month. One dead. Three untraceable (despite the 100% accuracy of the ID card database). By the time that lot comes to court, a first year law student could get a reasonable doubt past the jury.

    Add in all the other stuff the government likes to think will help (emails,. IP addresses, phone calls) and the police will be drowing in data.

    Like all hapless punters, uk plc has confused "quantity" with "quality".

    Bring it on. The more the merrier.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Raw Power

    "How would you feel if you were passed over for promotion, because of the political beliefs you hold being stated in a blog comment?"

    Imagine if you were the person in charge of promotions, and you had a chance to ruin someone's career - just by searching Google. Wouldn't you feel a little thrill at having that power? Especially if you were the kind of person who has the power to hire and fire people. Perhaps their pleasure outweighs your pain. Besides which, blackmail and extortion work both ways. There must be employers with guilty pasts, as well.

  10. Peter Kay

    It's essential not to expose your private life to employers

    That means no blogs with an easily searchable name on them, no myspace under your name, no facebook, no friendsunited entries that could affect you years into the future.

    Make no mistake, employers will search for information about you and use it as part of the decision making process.

    Staying completely anonymous is difficult, but there are some simple things you can do to protect yourself from basic searches.

  11. xjy

    Forces of production way ahead of relations of production

    All this openness and detail is already and will soon become even more valuable and useful in real human terms. At the moment it's dangerous in a lot of cases because of the way human social production is monopolized by private ownership (with publicly owned enterprises enslaved to private service and milked by it). Once we socialize production, plan it together (instead of privately and selfishly like the big corporations - they are planned economies but in private interest), and realize how similar we all are despite our differences, we'll appreciate the wealth of experience contained in the data freely available online.

    At the moment there is no solution within the limits of our present capitalist society. Hence the confusion of pundits at all levels, who circle round and round like goldfish in an ever smaller bowl and wonder what the fuck's happening, and why the whole world's in such a state of chassis. Except the ones who think we're living in the best of all possible worlds, of course.

  12. Maria Helm

    RE: Er

    How would you feel if you were passed over for promotion, because of the political beliefs you hold being stated in a blog comment, say? Or losing your job due to your sexual orientation, discovered from your profile on a social networking site?

    That would stink - BUT - How is that different from political beliefs you stated while standing at the water cooler, or when a co-worker came over for dinner, or that were revealed by the fact that you regrularly schedule vacation days when certain protests occur, or because someone saw you on TV? How is discovering your sexual orientation on a networking site different from discovering it because a neighbor gets hired at the company, or someone you went to school with outs you to your boss, or someone you work with sees you at the mall with your date? And checking out someone's cache or search history isn't so different than checking their library book records, (and those have been used as evidence in the past).

    The point is that what you do online is PUBLIC. It is just as public as what you say at work, what you do in a restaurant, where you go on vacation, or what you publish in the newspaper. And just like anything public, it is discoverable by people who weren't there at the time. Offline, we call this gossip. The only difference is the online version sticks around a lot longer. And, just to make you even more paranoid, with the proliferation of camera phones and Flickr, there are probably already pictures of you online even if you didn't post them. I don't see any way of stopping it. What are you going to do, take away everyone's cameras?

    For those who are concerned that the data can be skewed to make you look guilty when you aren't, remember (1) that's been going on forever, regardless of if the data was digital or not (2) it can also be used to clear you.

    The bottom line here is that we're all going to come back to a small-town level of accountability for our actions, consideration of the future implications of our actions, and honesty about who we are and what we do... even when we're miles away from home. I'm not saying if that's a good or bad thing...I suppose it will be both in different circumstances. The take-away here is don't do anything online that you wouldn't do in public, or that you wouldn't want anyone else to know you are doing. Just because you are sitting in your living room when you go online doesn't mean you aren't on the "World Wide Web" for all to see.

  13. Mike

    Once we socialize production, plan it together...

    Ah, someone who slept through most of the 20th century, and has never been part of, say, a "communal garden". "Once we socialize production", you'll find that the same S.O.B.s that used their social connection with the boss to skim the till and harass the workers will be still do so, just under a different title and possibley via a different connection. And you'll still be scrod for public knowledge of the "wrong" beliefs.

  14. Chris Pasiuk

    hmmm... perhaps it was unwise to post here?

    I do have to agree with the author on this one, that there is a vast store of knowledge available and it's a double-edged sword in its use. Just for kicks, Google your own name and see how many hits are actually you. Thanks to the comments on El Reg, I have a few that all point back to here. Also found someone else with the same name as me out in Michigan--of course that may actually be a Christina in reality, but nonetheless, she also pops out. Considering that I have a really rare last name in the scope of things, this is by far impressive. Not only could my views here have certain reprecussions to my career and social life, but I may also inadvertantly taint someone else as well. To determine who is really who, there needs to be more detail pertaining to history and time to really lock it down. Honestly I can say that I have only passed through Michigan in my travels but who's to know if my boss or someone else doing a random search on me would know to make that distinction?

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