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Facebook Connecting the Dots?

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An NY Times Op-Ed piece by Eduardo Porter about web privacy finishes with the following:

But with more and more information about people’s credit cards, browsing histories and identities sloshing around online, I wonder whether this will do. A few months ago, I nervously created my first Facebook page with the minimum necessary information to view pictures posted by old friends.

I returned to the page a few days later to discover that somehow it had found out both the name of my college and my graduation class, displaying them under my name. I have not returned since. In the back of my mind, I fear a 28-year-old hacker and a couple of Russians have gathered two more facts about me that I would rather they didn’t have. And it’s way too late to take my life offline.

Really? Facebook is connecting the dots this way?

Hard to make a true determination of what he means. His Facebook profile is obviously accessible to friends only. It could be that Facebook connected the dots and presented them to him for confirmation. That would certainly be less insidious than making the connections and imposing them upon his account. For example, he could easily wish to keep his Facebook profile clear of various episodes of his past life, like college, previous employers, etc.

But it surely shows that every little bit of ourselves that we leak out into the cyberspace represents another potential hook that a data miner could use to link vast data repositories.

One has to wonder if there is really any privacy left at all. We get by on obscurity, the (blind!) hope that no one will look too closely. But I wonder how most of us, with modest connections to to electronic world – an email address, some credit cards, a few online purchases, perhaps even a Facebook account – would fare if someone with access to those data mines turned their attention on them. In fact, it’s probably the case that the data miners do this themselves via automated searches on their data stores.

As Mr. Porter said, way too late to pull our lives offline.

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