Finding Lost People On The Net

Getting in touch with "lost" people is rapidly becoming not only a trend on the 'net, but a passion.I should know. In the past year, by using the Internet, I have personally reconnected with at least four different people who I'd lost track of. It can be quite a thrill, to see the name of an old friend pop up on your screen. But not all people are comfortable with the idea that their addresses and phone numbers are just out there, listed on the 'net for any passing family member or old acquaintance to look up. And after the recent local furor over Portland computer consultant Aaron Nabil's posting of Department of MotorVehicles records on the 'net, I found myself asking the question, what if people don't want to be found?"The concept of finding privacy in this modern, data-rich era is an interesting one. For the most part, it's an illusion. We think that because we live in a house with doors that lock -- because we choose our own jobs and our own lives and our own property -- that we own our personal information as well. This belief is reinforced by the simple fact that most people don't go to the trouble of looking up vital statistics on other people. Yet every time we subscribe to a magazine or fill out a sweepstakes entry, write a check or use a credit card, send an email or post an article on a newsgroup, we give up a piece of information about ourselves to some database somewhere.The fact is, the minority who are interested in other people's personal information have always had many public avenues for research, including phone directories, city halls and the DMV, not to mention the marketer's ploy of purchasing commercial mailing lists.The main change with the 'net is that some of that information has suddenly become immeasurably easier for the ordinary person to access. You can pull it up on your own computer, right in the (ahem) privacy of your own home. Further, the 'net is now an active source for information gathering in its own right. Many web sites have 'guestbook' and 'registration' pages designed to solicit personal information from their visitors, in exchange for the information and services they provide. Special scripts can track who has visited a web site and some can even grab the visitors' email addresses in passing.As a result, internet junk mail (spam) is proliferating as fast as the 'net itself. Most of the major people-finder search engines I have explored on the 'net do offer the option for people to "unlist" themselves or alter their personal information or include their email addresses and home pages. Of course, you have to have Internet access to do that, but it's better than nothing.The best bet for those who desire true 'net anonymity is to avoid the 'net like the plague and to have an unlisted telephone number -- only then will you not show up on a public telephone database. Those who are already on the 'net and want more privacy might consider these measures: Start by controlling the account info that your online service provider publishes about you, if they publish any at all. Most direct Internet connections offer the user some way to control what name their account is listed under, for example. And if you don't want your last name listed on your account, you can usually, with some persistence, get it removed. Usenet (newsgroup) denizens should pay attention to anything they choose to post in this forum. With news services on the Web like Deja News -- a database that captures and stores newsgroup posts in a format that's searchable by account name, email address and so on -- just about anything you post on Usenet can end up in a public archive for all the world to see.Make someone curious in one newsgroup, and they may very well go check you out on Deja News to see where else you've been posting. Finland offers a free, world-wide anonymizing service for email addresses that in effect takes your email message, removes your address and assigns anonymous alias address to it before sending it on to its destination. Replies to your email are also anonymized. Be aware, though, that some members of the cybercommunity tend to disregard posts from anonymous parties as unverifiable, hence unreliable, unless they are posted in a forum (alt.abuse.recovery, for example) where the anonymity makes sense. PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), first distributed publicly as freeware in June 1991, definitely deserves a mention. This two-key encryption software encrypts the content of emails so effectively that no government or private organization has yet been able to crack the code on it. In fact, after PGP was sent out of the country, the man who wrote the program, Philip Zimmerman, was arrested by the US government and placed under criminal investigation for potentially having exported a weapon! Charges against Zimmerman have only recently been dropped.Of course, for some people the obsession with anonymity goes to humorously ridiculous lengths that have less to do with protecting private information than with hiding an unsavory identity. I know of one individual, for example, who so desperately needed to be anonymous that he got himself a second Internet account, under an assumed name.Apparently he felt he needed an alter-ego to come in to the newsgroup he was harrassing -- and bolster his own arguments! Write to Lark at or visit her web site at 1FINDING PEOPLE ON THE 'NETYahoo! People Search: Switchboard: Telephone Directories on the Web: Wide Profile Registry: People Finder: News Usenet Search Engine: ON THE 'NETFor information on Finland's anonymizing service, send email to: help@anon.penet.fiPGP Information:

ent to the president of the GOP gay group back in May by Dole's campaign: "Per our discussion, I am attaching a list of upcoming Dole for President fund-raising events. Senator Dole and I would appreciate any assistance you could give us in turning out your members at each event. I am looking forward to working with you." Now, Dole piously tells us that we should judge him by the contributions he keeps. Yeah, like the millions of dollars he's raking-in from corporate executives with a direct interest in legislation the controls as senate majority leader! It's not the Log Cabin Republicans who're corrupting America -- it's the political prostitutes like Bob Dole.

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