Internet Searches Reveal Bounty of Personal Information

Some Facebook users don't know what privacy settings they have

By Kimberly King
|  Friday, Aug 26, 2011  |  Updated 6:21 PM CDT
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Personal information on the Internet isn't as private as many believe it to be.

Kim King, NBCDFW.com

Personal information on the Internet isn't as private as many believe it to be.

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Running an experiment at a local coffee shop, NBC 5 shows people their personal information on the Internet isn't as private as they may believe it to be.

From semi-private Facebook pages, to background info, private investigator Brad Smith showed several North Texans just how easy it is to find something on nearly everyone on the Internet.

Lorissa Miller, 29, was the most surprised of those we spoke with. Miller thought she had made her Facebook page private, but missed a few of the many privacy options.

"That’s for anybody? Anybody can see that? Wow," said Miller, as Smith pulled up photos and personal information on her Facebook page. "Are you trying to scare me?"

Smith went on to show participants how, even though he isn't their "friend," he could still see photos of them uploaded and tagged by friends. Those photos, in some cases, also revealed GPS data of where the photo was taken.

Merrick Pickens, 26, works in public relations and was less surprised at what Smith found.

"I do public relations for a couple of different companies and the amount of research I can find on other people is scary," said Pickens.

Using sites like ZabaSearch and Spokeo, Smith found old addresses, Pickens' Facebook page, her employer and even a church where she was once a guest speaker.

"I think about this stuff a lot. For $10 I got my address where I was living in Nashville, my family’s address, all of my family members including my extended family," said Pickens. "I got addresses. I couldn’t believe it."

So what can you do to make your Internet footprint a little smaller?

For one, double-check your Facebook privacy settings.  You can do this by going to the top right of your page and clicking on Account/Privacy Settings.  Once there, there are several levels of security to comb through.  Be advised that unless you disallow it, your friends can tag you in photos by default and those photos could contain GPS data that shows the location of the photograph and where you were when it was taken. If you have any doubt about what is accessible on Facebook to those you don't know, log out of Facebook and then search your name on the site.  What you can see while logged out is what anyone who doesn't know you can see.

If you don't like what you see, you know you need to further adjust your privacy settings.

Additionally, you may want to follow the advice of Marsha Curry.  We spoke with her at the coffee shop and she had almost no Internet footprint.

So, what's her secret? 

“I was recently married and I put most everything on the computer in my maiden name,” said Curry. “This really is eye-opening. I think I’ve done well. I don’t want people to know where I am.”

SMU Professor Mitch Thornton heads up the university’s research center for network security and he recommends creating an email alias to reduce your footprint online.

Thornton said if you simply make up a name for use on social media or for forms, you'll minimize your presence on the Internet.

Want to see what the Internet has on you?  Check out some of these sites below.  Most of them have opt-out links where you can have your information removed: Intelius.com, Acxiom.com, Mylife.com, Zabasearch.com, Spokeo.com, Beenverified.com, Peekyou.com, Ussearch.com, Peoplefinders.com, Peoplelookup.com, Peoplesmart.com, Privateeye.com, Whitepages.com, Usa-people-search.com, Spoke.com, Publicrecordsnow.com, Dobsearch.com, Radaris.com.
 

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