A little more information

The two main activities in my life: Helping the hungry in the late hours of the night and helping guitar players sound better one amp at a time.

I always try to remember that in order to do good one has to take action and actually do something.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I have watched the city and Southern California change for well over half a century.

I can be found on facebook at www.facebook.com/mylesr or on twitter at www.twitter.com/myles111us or on my own Guitar Amplifier Blueprinting website at www.mylesrose.com

Los Angeles Architectural History

Los Angeles Architectural History
1935 Art Deco at some of its finest: No. 168 - Griffith Observatory- (click on the photo for information)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Does Privacy Exist?

Can one person make a difference?  A social media question?  An issue of privacy?  Where are we headed in regard to information dissemination? 

This week I saw the movie Social Network.  No big surprises but it made me think about the trail some of us rode to get to places like Facebook today. .....

A few months before I saw the movie I learned how easy it was to gather information on a specific individual.  Somebody where I had nothing more than a name.  Their age could have ranged from 45-70.  I did not know where they lived, where they worked or much of anything other than one city that they lived in or near somewhere between five and fifteen years ago.  I had no idea where they currently lived.  I knew a little of their work on a very high level from perhaps a decade ago; they worked at one time at a college of some sort.  I did not find the person on twitter or facebook.

I had never met the individual but I had spoken to them on the phone for a few minutes every year or so over twenty years. 

In the end I could tell you more about the individual than their parents or even family would know.  Even more than they know themselves.

Tax liens and the obvious stuff was all there but in the end I even learned who their neighbors were (and where their neighbors work, neighbor family members, etc.) in every locations they had lived, and even who was currently living in the place they had lived over two decades ago.  Things such as current business and employment were childs play.  Google?  Yahoo?  Not needed or helpful in the least.

Does privacy exist?

Who, what, why, when and where.

The basic points of writing for a journalist.  I will start there. 

Who.  You want to try it yourself?  Pick anybody. 

If we wanted to run this as an ongoing study or for some form of research I would pick somebody that would not have a strong Internet presence from a search engine such as Google or Yahoo.  Having a subject that is low key in a manner of speaking would yield more of a lesson.  There is not a lot to be learned about searching a search engine for Jay Leno or Lindsay Lohan as an example.  Steve Smith on the other hand would pose more of a challenge and be a better example.

What.  Some folks have search tools in their arsenal.  Most people do not.  If you do not have a background in security, law enforcement, or information gathering ask yourself some of these questions. 

What would happen if resources were pooled to focus the compute power and thinking of thousands of people? 

What if you used social networking to have folks help you in your search? 
There are many ways to attack a problem.  Perhaps calling in social network friends is one thought?  I moderate and contribute to some music forums.  There are good forums and bad ones.  The good ones use their collective audience and experience to give advice to others and help them solve problems.  This is one of the great strong points of the Internet. 

If social networks and friends were called to help a search for information there would be side effects because their name and the issue of them being a subject in a public search would be known by a lot of people.

Would this target individual become famous?  Would they end up being a media figure?  Would we learn good things or things that are not flattering?   Would they end up in the media or on some TV talk show?

At the least it might result in little more than people re-connecting in some fashion which has its own merit and value.

There are programs one can download off the Internet that pool the power of idle computers connected to the Internet to solve huge math problems.  Distributed processing on a global scale rather than in a single box.  This could be the next level of distributed processing.  The next level of a search engine.  The next step in collective research.  Thousands of minds working a common problem all over the planet in every time zone.  This is something akin to Wikipedia.  The people of the Internet keeping information updated or adding new information.  The Internet can be a great resource to solve many problems.

Why.  The movie Social Network.  I found it interesting in a few areas that might elude much of the younger generation.  When I say younger I mean people under a half a century old. 

The character who played Bill Gates in the Facebook movie had a line about their first hardware which had a Z80, 8080 or some other sort of microprocessor or the day.   I smiled in the dark at that line in the movie. 

By that point in history things were more about implementation, application, user interfaces that were nicer to use and sped development, integration and marketing.

Like many things in life, it was timing and implementation that made many companies what they are today.  Leverage the technology and develop applications which utilize the technology.

The idea and concept of Facebook and twitter are great.  They are simple applications that have a big impact on many people each day.  Very simple applications that have had very big results.  Not as simple as the pet rock, the hula hoop or liquid paper but bigger than any of those examples and not much more complex based on the level of development utilizing current pedestrian technology. 

Implementing Facebook was not shooting a rocket to Mars yet the level of impact touches more lives directly every single day than anything that has come out of NASA since the first moon walk.

What if we wanted to build an example as a social exercise?  What parameters might be worth consideration? 

I will make a few points based on my own recent personal experience.  Below are a few things to consider if you want to try searching for somebody yourself as an experiment.

In my own case the person I wanted to learn more about that fell into this question of privacy was a person who I knew very little about.  He had led a life that spanned our country from one side to the other.  I suppose he changed the lives of people in positive ways and negative ways as is the case with all of us.  He did not have much of a profile on the Internet in spite of his life in education in some high places.  Either he was not extensively published or what he published has not found a simple path to the Internet.  He has a common name which some might feel lends a bit of protection.  This is really of no value.

When.  There really is no specific when.  My person was somebody that had been around the block so to speak.  I am not saying that the person is known or famous.  I am saying little more than they have spent many years walking this planet.  I am not saying they may or may not have had a wild lifestyle. 

What I am saying is that if you are over a half a century old by a decade and a half you have been around long enough to leave some sort of trail.  At about 65 years of age you have probably had a somewhat diverse life and crossed the path many others.

Where.   In my own quest on a particular individual, geography crossed the country from one side to the other and back.  PhD in the east overlooking the Atlantic, worked in on the west coast overlooking the Pacific, worked in the center of the USA and is currently on the east side of the continent. 

I have been involved in computers and data communication from 1973.  I am not as easily surprised by computers and their uses today as most people.

When I say computers I mean everything from chain printers to card readers to 026/029 card punches to Autocoder, COMPASS, FORTRAN, COBOL, data communications, satcom, IFF (identification friend or foe), security systems, government and law enforcement, synthesized speech RISC processors to multi processor mainframes and a bit more.

I have been directly involved in things like voice over data networks, satellite tracking, the U.S. Air Force Tactical Applications Center, security system development, the Los Angeles Sheriff Department crime tracking software. In most cases I was a direct developer when I was not the head of the development effort. 

We used to write code in machine language and assembly language.

When I say we I am talking about folks over 55 years old. Folks that used to fix things rather than swap things.

We understand the hardware and software on every level. We had operating systems with names like Master-Shadow-Shade, Simscript, SST.

In my house I had an wall of documentation, schematics, wire lists and wire equation summaries on the CDC 160A, 3800, 6600, 7600 Philco Bird Buffer and others.

When I worked for Control Data at Systems Development Corporation on complete systems for spy satellites I learned that it seemed impossible for anybody to be anonymous.  In 1973 I was introduced to the world of information gathering at STC in Sunnyvale California which sat on Moffet Field Naval Air Station.   Even at my lower level of Secret Clearance where many had Top Secret and Cryptographic levels I was still shown photos taken from very high altitudes where a Los Angeles Times newspaper could be read from the floor of the Mohave Desert.  In 1973.  This is what they showed me.   Made me wonder what they were not showing to people like me.  I gazed upon rows of disk drives the length of a football field stretch into the distance.  Watching as low level techs got on bicycles with racks on the front to hold paper towels and cleaner to ride to the printers off the smaller computers to perform routing maintenance.  Banks of supercomputers.

The results of a lot of work now sits in a museum in Germany.  Technology is always advancing.

I personally turned on switches of Seymour Cray's prototype to STAR 1B in the early seventies as part of the development team. 

I watched as places such as Fort Huachucahi Arizona grew from the Army Communications Command in 1973 to USAAISC and to NETCOM as I moved to AFTAC for nuclear treaty verification.

I spent many hours at Livermore Labs, Sandia Labs, Rockwell B1 Division and other places of high technology or cutting edge technology development in lead roles and positions.

Over the decades I watched the Internet come to life.  I am not surprised by the reach of technology or the speed in which it advances.

The Internet touches all of our lives even if one does not own a computer or touch a keyboard.  There is good and bad in most anything and the Internet is no exception.

If you want to hide it is too late.  You can drop off the grid and move to Montana and live in the mountains but your past is written in ink (to use a line from the movie The Social Network). 

If you ever went to school, have a social security number, have or had a drivers license or ever held any form of credit card you cannot hide. 

If you want to run the course with a better chance of survival do what a military fighter does when it is being tracked by a missile.  They toss out chad.  Shreds of metal that will overload the missile with too much data and confuse the tracking system.  Submarines do the same thing when under attack.  The prey tries to become a needle in a haystack.

Finding a needle in a haystack is easy when the stack is little more than a handful of hay.  You want to hide?  Put out more data, not less.

Seven degrees of separation?  I think with the Internet this is now a fraction of a degree?

This is not an invasion of privacy.  It is a matter of public record. 

Looking for answers could be an interesting ride.   

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