Today’s theme: privacy

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Boy, are you lot in trouble.

Not only can your prospective universities find out a lot about you by spying on your social networking profiles, but your future employers (or not) can too. Then there are the authorities.

You might not feel you have much to fear from the police (after all, as people sometimes say, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about), but what about the tax man, for example? Tax avoidance is the kind of “crime” that most people don’t see as a crime. Then there are the grey areas. You find something, and instead of handing it in to lost property, you sell it on eBay. As the guy who found a prototype of Apple’s next-generation iPhone in a bar discovered, the occasional dodgy deal can find you out pretty fast.

I mentioned the other day the documentary Erasing David, which will be shown on More4 tomorrow night. It’s all about one man’s attempt to disappear and how a pair of private detectives tried to find him. According to Wired’s account, the detectives merely used traditional methods to find him, as did the police in California who tracked down the iPhone finder, Brian Hogan. In the case of Hogan, the police kicked down the door of the editor of the web site that bought the prototype from Hogan (for $5000) and seized all his computers.

But Wired magazine found Hogan without kicking in doors. One of their interns noticed a comment on a Facebook wall. Wired took a screen grab and went from there.

And so the hunt for clues began — a week after Gizmodo broke its story. By then, Hogan had deleted his Facebook profile, and presumably every other social networking profile he owned, in an effort to hide. That made the search difficult, but his attempt to disappear was already a major clue that he was in trouble.

But as I’ve told you repeatedly in class, deleting your Facebook profile doesn’t really delete it. It disappears from public searches, but Google still keeps a copy of older pages in its cache for quite a while. Anyway, Hogan left footprints in the butter. Wired noticed that a lot of his Facebook friends were connected with Santa Barbara Community College. A Google search for “Brian Hogan SBCC” confirmed that he’d studied there.

Late Wednesday evening I got lucky again. I found a website hosted by a friend of Hogan, where he linked to a personal travel blog documenting the 2008 China/Vietnam study abroad experience. In that blog, I found one photo where the first name Brian was mentioned in a caption. I was certain that was Hogan.

Shortly after I found the photo, Poulsen received a phone call from Hogan’s attorney, Jeffrey Bornstein. He called because [Wired journalist] Poulsen was apparently “shaking too many branches” (perhaps by trying to add all of Hogan’s Facebook friends)

And so Wired found their man. Are you worried yet? You should be. Take a look at this article from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which offers a timeline of Facebook’s “eroding privacy policy”. Snip:

Facebook originally earned its core base of users by offering them simple and powerful controls over their personal information. As Facebook grew larger and became more important, it could have chosen to maintain or improve those controls. Instead, it’s slowly but surely helped itself — and its advertising and business partners — to more and more of its users’ information, while limiting the users’ options to control their own information.

The question I want to ask is this? What are you going to do to protect your privacy? Are the government helping you, or are they planning to help themselves to some of your data along with everyone else? Is privacy even a concern these days? Am I wrong to be so concerned?

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