February 2, 2005

Addresses, maps and the information age

As some of you may know from my previous post, Google has been providing name-address searching functions for sometime. What you may not know, is that you can now do reverse phone number searching. I got a message forwarded to me this morning from a concerned friend.

Google has implemented a new feature wherein you can type someone's telephone number into the search bar and hit enter and then you will be given their address and a map to their house. Everyone should be aware of this! You may think this is a good feature or not.

***Note that you can have your phone number removed or blocked. Before forwarding this, I tested it by typing my telephone number in
google.com. My phone number came up, and when I clicked on the MapQuest link, it actually mapped out where I live - quite scary. Please look up your own number. Read below for details. Think about it--if a child, ANYONE gives out his/her phone number, someone
can actually now look it up to find out where he/she lives. The
safety issues are obvious, and alarming. In order to test whether
your phone number is mapped, go to:


Type your phone number in the search bar (i.e. 5555551212) and
hit enter. If you want to BLOCK Google from divulging your private
information, simply click on the telephone icon next to your phone
number. Removal takes 48-hours. If you are unlisted in the phone
book, you might not be in there, but it is a good idea just to
check. If your number does come up if you hit map,it will show you a
direct map to your house...

If you click on your phone number, a form will come up whereby
you can remove your number from Google.

Here are my thoughts. Reverse phone number lookups have been available for at least 5-10 years now. I remember doing my first one as an undergrad. The data, of course, comes from magazine subscriptions, contests and phone book publishers. And Yahoo Maps and Mapquest? Well, there is no stopping someone who has your address from getting directions.

While it helps to opt out of Google's list, it is probably too late to stop the information. You would have to opt out of hundreds if not thousands of sites. The only real way to regain annonymity is to move into an apartment using a pseudonym, use cash, never file a tax return, cancel all your phones, shred your garbage, and communicate only from pay phones and at internet cafes. Even then, these days, $30-40 can buy you a lot of information (SSN, home purchases, outstanding loans, etc.).

So, does it scare me? Information that becomes public cannot be destroyed. It is just a fact of life. What is scary are companies that aggregate credit card purchases, mortgage payments, phone call logs by your social security number. I'm absolutely sure that they will not give you this information, even if you say please. Of course, maybe you trust them, but can they be trusted to keep it private? Last week T-Mobile got hacked.

Jonathan Cherry, a spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service in Washington, D.C., said one of the victims in the incident was a Secret Service agent who was part of Operation Firewall.

In addition to the e-mail and personal-computer files of hundreds of customers the intruder had access to, the hacker obtained documents of Secret Service agent Peter Cavicchia, who was investigating the hacker and was using his personal T-Mobile account.

Welcome to the information age.

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