Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Thursday, June 02, 2005

I can see you!

Talk about your surveillance society!

I should point out that I currently earn a crust building fairly complicated bits of the interweb (I hasten to add; for - by and large - rather groovy people... charities, NGO's, the fluffier bits of government; though, I admit, with the occasional higher-paying client). This means that I do know more about the web than your average blogger, and can make use of it in ways that many website owners probably can't.

That shouldn't, however, in any way lessen the implications of the fact that merely by visiting my site once (for a single second), I can learn a huge amount about you. Almost none of us (me included) take precautions to hide our tracks on the web. After all, we're not all quite as paranoid as we perhaps should be.

You see, I decided to look beyond the "what did they google to find me?" stuff in my site stats, and actually work out how much information a single user leaves behind them when they click a link that leads here. Using only information provided by all three of the free site statistics plug-ins that I tested; I chose three visits at random from the past 24 hours.

Here's what I could find out using this information, a search engine, and a freely downloadable piece of Shareware called AY Spy:

Visit 1: Arrived via a search on google that was clearly not aimed at me. The visit lasted 3 seconds (clearly long enough to establish this was not what they were looking for).

Visit 2: Arrived via a link on someone else's blog. The visit lasted 20 minutes (long enough for the person to read the most recent Big Brother entry, the comments on it, and then refer to the comments on the previous Big Brother entry).

Visit 3: Arrived via a bookmark in their browser. The visit lasted over an hour and they read the three most recent entries.

Within 4 minutes I had tracked down, on each of these people:
  • their name and address,
  • at least one phone number,
  • at least one photograph.

Sleep tight.


Blogger CuriousHamster said...

That is more than a little unnerving. Still, it might have been handy to find out more about the person who arrived at my blog using this search: "2005 email contact director small arms ammunition company".
I'm not sure I'd like to meet the person in question though.

2/6/05 21:43  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't believe you. See this. And what's my pet's name?

3/6/05 00:55  
Anonymous Anonymous? said...

I got home from work at eight o clock tonight to find that someone with a slight Irish accent, asking for my full name, had phoned on my mobile, which I'd left at home.

I thought little of it until I read this, but, well, you're scaring me now.

3/6/05 03:07  
Blogger john b said...

How d'you get beyond the ISP? I mean, obviously from this post you can track down my employer, and if I were posting at home you could track down Telewest, but how do you get from a dynamic Telewest IP address to identifying me?

3/6/05 14:59  
Blogger Andrew said...

I was wondering that. AY Spy doesn't give you that much info, so how do you get beyond the dynamic IP that an ISP gives you to a name and address?

3/6/05 15:13  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...


Let me nip this in the bud... I didn't mean to imply that with just an IP address I could find out all there is to know about a person (of course, dynamic IPs make that a very complicated process); merely that IP sniffing is one of the tools that can be used.

Even more important is google.

And it goes without saying that I can't unearth a photo unless there's already one of you on the web somewhere.

My point was more general... about the information that we all leave lying around on the web and which can be all joined up using search-engines, IP sniffers and a couple of assumptions about behaviour patterns (the potential fly in the ointment... or, rather, the typewriter).

3/6/05 16:50  
Blogger Andrew said...

But for someone who is semi-anonymous on the web, and who doesn't (e.g.) have a personal web-page with names, addresses, phone numbers and photos, it would be extremely difficult to track them down. No?

At least, I bloody hope so.

3/6/05 17:56  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

Well not even that Andrew. It did surprise me that the first three I picked (genuinely at random) from a 24 hour period only took 4 minutes to get a very detailed fix on. But even "semi-anonymous" web users can be found with a little bit more effort (a cd with the entire electoral role was just given away with a popular PC magazine, for instance... had I added that to my arsenal and the willingness to make a call or two (I didn't leave a message anonymous? you'll be relieved to hear), then I'm pretty sure you'd have to be *actively* anonymous to remain that way; and very few of us are.

And hey... throw me a couple of hundred grand in funding and I could probably get you nude polaroids of 90% of my site visitors!

3/6/05 18:37  
Blogger Justin said...

I'll do you a nude polaroid for a hundred grand.

3/6/05 20:04  
Blogger L said...

well, if you figure out my address, please mail me some cookies or something.

you're right, though -- it is very scary, and it's only going to get worse I think.

3/6/05 20:31  
Anonymous kathyf said...

I've thought about this too. I freaked out my daughter in America when I called her and told her I knew she'd just been to my website minutes earlier.

What I want to know is, who's googling "Bonnie Franklin Nude" and reaching me?

4/6/05 00:15  
Blogger David said...

There's so much crap about me floating around out there already. Hell, I'm sure someone's got my Social Security Number on a list somewhere ready to be sold. Oh, crap... now I've just given you a link to find out even more about me. Stalk away!

5/6/05 07:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you find the picture of me with the pineapple? Don't be disheartened, I can send it to you if you'd like...


5/6/05 14:30  
Blogger Ms Vile File said...

That's most unnerving, Mr Bliss. I do so hope you will use your power for Good, and not Evil...

RE: Unusual Google searches, I can't believe how many people find my blog using the search terms 'excessive teenage spitting'.

6/6/05 19:39  
Blogger Designer Geek said...

Reminds me of an occasion when some idiot decided that subscribing me to a whole heap of email lists (on some rather strange topics) would be a good way to annoy me.

First job was to get filter out the offending emails, and then track the idiot down. Half an hour later I had a his address, phone number, a photo of his house, and the phone number of the nearest police station to him (in California, I'm in the UK - there - I'll save you the trouble of finding that out!).

I very nearly called the police near his home. It would have been amusing to have them knock on his door a few hours after he launched his mail bomb and tell him to please behave nicely. Instead I just called his ISP and asked them to pull his account. After a few days (it took them a while to work out what the hell I was asking them to do!) the emails all stopped. I assume his ISP beat him heartily round the head for violating the end-user agreement.

8/6/05 15:56  

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