The Internet has revolutionised the way many of us live, with people working, playing, and even finding love on the Web. But all Internet use leaves traces, from IP addresses left on websites, to names, locations, and birth dates on social networks, and even photos on sites such as Flickr. Which is a worrying trend for all of us, expect of course, for private investigators, who actually thrive on the information trail we leave behind as we surf the net.
In fact, the Internet has changed the lives of private investigators completely, by making their jobs a virtual doddle. Steven Rambam, a private eye based in New York, recently spoke to CNET News about the effect the Web has had on his job, and his techniques for tracking people down, and finding out all the gory details about them.
Rambam is director of the Pallorium investigative agency, and gave a keynote speech on Saturday at the Hackers on Planet Earth conference. He said afterwards:
Anything you put on the Internet will be grabbed, indexed, cataloged, and out of your control before you know it. The genie is out of the bottle. Data doesn’t stay in one location. It migrates to hundreds of places.
The range of places Rambam, and other private investigators, use these days varies from search engines like Google, to social networks, such as MySpace and Facebook, and even to instant messaging and micro-blogging sites such as Twitter.
With Google, every search an individual makes leaves some kind of trace, which private eyes, and other snooping parties can use to identity your interests, and other online leads to follow. Twitter, and other blogging services can reveal your present location, or at least your last known location.
Facebook and MySpace offers a massive range of information for interested parties to use to track you, with the basics such as your name, and birth date supplemented by photos, not even always added by yourself, and message from friends that could reveal interests, and even your present location.
Rambam said “I used to pay the police $500 for a driver’s license photo. Now I just have to go to MySpace. I can find your location without leaving my desk.” Then there are job sites, dating site, and even photo sharing sites.
While all of this readily-available personal information is a boon to private investigators, it’s a worry for those of us who use the Internet in all the various different ways it can be used – all of which gives complete strangers more and more of a picture of us, and our way of life.