Updated: Nov 7, 2020
With the advent of the Internet and improvements in technology came a huge surge of information. Today we generate and add to a mountain of information accumulated in our lives with every purchase, Facebook post, and Tweet. It also includes the information we create and consume. If you have ever wondered why you get targeted ads based on internet searches when you look at your Facebook feed. That is part of the information that is online and gathered on you. Sometimes it can be as simple as casting a lure and seeing what comes back in. Some information is purchased while other information is given freely. We are going to look at a few of the various types of information is out in the universe that is commonly found online.
Pictures and Video
Pictures and video are everywhere in culture today. We take selfies, pictures, and video to post to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik-Tok, Match.com, Tinder, Bumble, Twitch, You-Tube, and the list goes on. However, what happens to that data once online? More often than not I would speculate it is consumed by other people who share it to their page, re-tweet, or share your content. Sometimes it is quite seemingly harmless and other times it can be used for purposes we didn't intend for it.
One example of your photos being used for unwanted purposes would be catfishing. Most have heard horror stories of men meeting beautiful, gorgeous, and sexy women online only later to find out that it was a 37 year old pimple faced troll living in their grandmas basement or a guy in an internet café located in Morocco. In fraud these often are considered romance scams. They involve an internet meeting and bonding of a victim with a fraudster. The fraudster eventually asks for some form of gift or consideration to be given to them for their illicit gain. The fraudster pretends to be this person after using their images and likeness to their advantage. They can get your pictures off Facebook or Instagram to use as their avatar or likeness in these profiles.
Needless to say its relatively easy for your likeness and pictures to end up being used for purposes you don't wish them to be used for. You can usually change your privacy and share setting in social media apps to keep unwanted sharing down. A good tool to see if you have pictures online you would rather not be shared is to do a Google reverse image search. Another issue to remember is who you share photos with. Unfortunately, we live in a world where revenge porn exists. Some but not all states have laws that criminalize revenge porn. So its always a good idea to consider who your sharing naked photos or dick pics with because it could end up doing damage to your personal image.
With most social media and online apps you get to choose who you are "friends" with or who you follow. In some cases that information again is shared. You can elect to change privacy settings again, but most people don't. In the rare instance a link or relationship with someone could cause grief or headaches for you. It could be in the form of someone trying to assess what political party do they align with, who you surround yourself with, and more. In a recent firestorm actor Chris Pratt found himself in a situation. People researched whom he followed, what church he belonged to, and more to then attack him politically. In investigations sometimes police use your social media information to tie you to other criminals.
Some states have more information relating to people and their businesses than others. This information is usually involuntary and is required for formations, business filings, and such. In some cases it can be easily accessed and show basic information such as formation date, members, managers, registered agents, and the like. It is not uncommon in most states to have a record of those documents. LinkedIn also serves as a information source about a business someone owns, manages, or works at.
Another common piece of information that can be found online are property records. Most but not all governments have county appraisal districts/assessors that have information available as to property tax, assessed values, and ownership. Grantor/Grantee indexes typically will have deed records for the same information. Not all information is available in some states that have stricter privacy laws. Zillow and other online realty resources also have information that is readily available to peruse.
The information we tweet, post, reply, and submit are typically in written text with the exception for those occasional Facebook posts that say reply with a GIF. They in a way give indication to who we are. We post in response to what makes us happy, what problems we have, how we feel politically, and how we feel about what someone else published. Some people can make bad decisions and post racist, hateful, and generally negative bad content online. Employers do look at what employees and candidates for hire post online. To say that they don't partake in that practice is naïve at best. For every mass shooter or crime that is committed the first thing some people do is go online and look for "ammunition" to attack or discredit others. It's typically wise in my opinion to stop think and then decide if that post, tweet, or content is appropriate or worth it.
While it is daunting to consider how much information is out there being collected or exposed to the universe of creators and consumers, the one thing I hope this blog post achieved is a perspective of what might be out there. I encourage anyone reading this to stop, think, and then proceed with your how you handle your information. Sometimes the information on the internet is involuntarily placed there by third parties and sometimes its put there by ourselves. It is important that people as creators and consumers of information to consider how we operate and present ourselves.
About the Author
Stephen Marsh is a private investigator and Certified Fraud Examiner in Texas and owns NIGMA Solutions, LLC License Number A09427801.