Why you should occasionally Google yourself!

Bad guys have way more access to your data than you think…

 

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For many, Google (which as of this post controls 71.1% of the global search engine market share) is the gateway to everything that the Web hosts. People google a website’s name more often than entering it manually (or clicking on a bookmark).

And Google’s influence is way beyond than just acting as a way-point between people and their favorite sites on the web. Google has enough power to influence user’s thoughts and behaviours, it has enough power to change the state of the race of an election by simply altering the search ranking of the candidates.

But thankfully, Google is NOT evil. In fact that’s their motto. Almost all of Google’s search results are organic, meaning only the Google’s PageRank algorithm decides the positioning of a search result on the results page.

Google and You.

So, with that said, why should you care?

In today’s online world, concealing yourself is becoming an exception than the rule. By default people assume everyone is supposed to have a Facebook account, must constantly send out Tweets from their Twitter and must constantly upload a stream of pictures on their Instagram.

People (crackers included) can find a shit-ton about you just by knowing your first and last name.

Mobile devices only worsen the problem. Nearly every photo taken on your mobile device is Geo-tagged (unless if the user has disabled it), meaning it’s EXIF file contains tags about the Geo-physical location of, when the photograph was taken.

So, the Internet is a goldmine for hackers who can then use the very same information to impersonate you by stealing your identity. And if you think companies you trust are working round the clock to keep your account safe, then think again.

But, wait, I don’t want to scare you!

Yes, the point of this post is to NOT scare you. Of course, there is some probability of you being hacked sometime in your lifetime, but that doesn’t mean you need to be paranoid about it all the time.

Taking some simple steps to gain control over your information online is a good start. That’s why you should start by Googling yourself!

Why you should Google yourself?

Google, as previously mentioned is the first destination for any hacker to gain some basic data/meta-data about you.

If for example, you maintain public profiles on a whole bunch of websites, then all of them would show up in the search results.

A hacker can then manually mine and process your information from each individual profile (such as your username, profile picture, your family connections) and fuse them together to prepare a blueprint for an Identity Theft attack!

It’s called Social Engineering.

And, it’s scary.

General tips for Googling yourself!

Now that you’ve decided to Google yourself, here are some simple tips (conjured up from my own experiences) to help you.

  • Firstly, launch your browser in incognito mode (Firefox/Edge users can use “in-private” mode) – You want to do this because chances are, you’re already signed in many of your private accounts and Google account especially. This would invariably lead to Google displaying you personalized result right on top the very page (and fool you into thinking you’re the first result in your name’s search, Omg omg I’m faaamous!, No you’re not.). So, incognito mode is recommended.
  • Start by Googling your first name and last name – Chances are, there are tons of people already named after you, so your chances of finding your profile from that haystack of profiles is minimal, unless if you have a horribly rare name.
  • Search for your usernames on different profile – If you’re creative and love continuity, chances are you have same username across multiple profile on the web. Although it makes you easier to find on the web, like for example, Googling Abhiminator throws up my profiles exclusively, because I own the username across multiple profiles, it’s a hacker’s goldmine. With this, people can also find profiles in sites you don’t want people to access *cough* reddit *cough*. If you think your search throws up results you do not wish other people to see, you have three options. 1) Make the profile private so that search engine crawlers cannot access it. 2) Change your username to something completely unrelated to delink it from your name. 3) Nuke your profile (last resort of course.).
  • Finally, reverse search your profile image –  This is the final step in Googling yourself (and in some cases optional). Sometimes, your profile picture can end up in places you wish it didn’t end up in. And to make matters worse, they aren’t even linked to your original account. This happens mostly during catfishing, where people on dating sites put other’s profile picture to fool other users, and in some cases, they can use yours. You can reverse image search by dragging and dropping your suspected profile picture into Google’s image search bar. If you do end up finding your picture in an unrelated profile, you can shoot an email to that particular website for DMCA/privacy removal.

That’s about it.

Bottomline is, there are threats that exist in this information age that were unimaginable 20-30 years ago. With each passing day, the Internet is becoming even more ingrained in our everyday life and threats lurk just around the corner. But by taking specific precautions and using some common sense, one can avoid being digitally shredded.

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Abhishek.

 

The Productivity Paradox!

Why has our productivity dropped as the computational power increased exponentially?

I remember the times when I was a young student, in 2nd grade I think when people used to debate about whether the newly upcoming Smartboards would radicalize education and would transform the way students learn.

A similar excitement buzzed through our own household when we got our first computer with an internet connection. I thought my grades would skyrocket now given the fact that I have a massive store of information and valuable data right at my fingertips. I have never been more wrong. My grades in fact DROPPED after Internet came to our home and my focus DRIFTED from my academics onto other things the Internet offered.

And I know many of us have experienced this. Why does is our productivity remaining stagnant(even dropping) when the computational capacity of PCs have been increasing and the prices of chips have been falling down over the course of past two decades?

That forms the basis of the Productivity Paradox. According to Stanford, Productivity Paradox is “the peculiar observation made in business process analysis that, as more investment is made in information technology, worker productivity may go down instead of up. This observation has been firmly supported with empirical evidence from the 1970s to the early 1990s. This is highly counterintuitive. Before investment in IT became widespread, the expected return on investment in terms of productivity was 3-4%. This average rate developed from the mechanization/automation of the farm and factory sectors. With IT though, the normal return on investment was only 1% from the 1970s to the early 1990s. ”

More research into this topic across many MNCs and other global companies revealed the fact that workers tended to procrastinate more than they used to get the job done. With increasing computing power and increasing internet speeds, it became easier and easier to access sites that are a distraction from the actual work. According to the popular academic blogger Matt Might, “The transaction cost to from productivity to procrastination has become close to zero”. It only takes a few second to jump from a doc file that you’re working on, onto reddit, with just a few bunch of clicks.

So, how is this information useful for me?

So you ask.

As I mentioned, it’s got everything to do with how easy it has become to get lost into the dopamine jackpot that is the Internet these days. You’ve got 24×7 entertainment Web2.0 sites like YouTube, HULU, Netflix and social sites like Facebook, Twitter and you name it. Don’t get me started on Gaming now.

So, it’s SUPER EASY to switch from doing something productive to get into any one of the above procrastination hell hole. You need to realize that.

To counter this problem, you need to make it harder for your brain to switch from the thing you’re working  on to procrastinating. You need to gradually increase the transaction cost for the switch. You can do that by using website/app blockers like ColdTurkey for Windows, SelfControl for Mac, StayFocusd for Chrome and LeechBlock for Firefox.

And, to give further strengthen this, have a WORK ONLY computer, preferably with the internet disabled for all the offline tasks. Don’t install stuff like Steam, Netflix on this computer. Use this for getting work done.

If buying a new computer seems like an expensive option, what you can do is create an Administrator account and ask someone else to set a complex password (and tell them to remember it/write it down.). You create a limited account for all of your work related stuff and tell the one with admin account to disable the internet etc. according to your needs.

Ultimately, you need to realize that you’re only cheating yourself if you try to bypass all of the blockers that YOU have set for YOURSELF. Because I used to take bypassing the above blockers *as a challenge* (yeah, I was really stupid) myself earlier. Don’t do that.

That’s about it.

The Internet is a necessary evil. You can’t live without it but it’s also super easy to get lost online. Be mindful of your browsing.

And, even I’m not perfect. I’ve done all of the above stuff that I’ve mentioned but I’m still susceptible to relapse. Maintaining your focus is a continuous battle and it’s always on YOU.

New post next week. Until then.

Sources

  1. http://matt.might.net/articles/cripple-your-technology/
  2. http://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs181/projects/productivity-paradox/background.html
  3. http://ccs.mit.edu/papers/CCSWP130/ccswp130.html