thoughts and observations of a privacy, security and internet researcher, activist, and policy advisor

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Lonelygirl15 and amateur data-mining

Update: The identity of the actress behind Lonelygirl15 has been revealed. The NYT has the story, more is here, and a lot of pictures have been found here. This is how it was revealed:
I was surfing the article on Lonelygirl15 on TMZ.com when I came across a comment that linked to a private MySpace page that was allegedly that of the actress who plays Lonelygirl15. As the profile was set to “private,” there was no real info one could glean from the page. However, when I queried Google for that particular MySpace user name, “jeessss426,” I found a Google cache from the page a few months ago when it was still public.A lot of the details of the girl’s background clicked for me: She was an actress from a small city in New Zealand who had moved to Burbank recently to act. The name on the profile was “Jessica Rose.” When next I happened to query Google image search for “Jessica Rose New Zealand” I was instantly rewarded with two cached thumbnail photos of Lonelygirl15, a.k.a. Jessica Rose, from a New Zealand talent agency that had since removed the full size versions. A later search on Yahoo on “jeessss426” also turned up a whole load of pictures from her probably forgotten ImageShack account.

This shows how much information about us is already available in google caches, internet archives, user accounts and the like. If face-recognition services like Riya (also see here) were more popular (which I hope they never will), we could have found out about the true "identity" of this person much earlier. But at the same time, we can do this datamining about everybody else, at least about the ones among us who are a bit active online. Folks like Robert D. Steele have for a long time been preaching about "open source intelligence", which is a nice equalizer and gives us some power to counter-balance (secret) information from the intelligence services our governments base some of their decisions on. But if we speak about personal information, it is a pretty scary development. But no, privay as a social value is not dead yet, as even Scott McNeally has recognized recently.

Via Michael Zimmer

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