Is your online privacy protected?

May 25, 2010 6:35:50 AM PDT
How protected is your personal information? You might be surprised at how much information about you is available for free on the Internet. Eyewitness News takes a look at what someone can find out about you with just a few keystrokes, and what, if anything, you can do about it.

At Waldo's Coffeehouse in The Heights, we found Mark Niles taking advantage of the free wi-fi that comes with your order. But he didn't realize that with each keystroke, he could be giving away his personal information.

"It does concern me," said Niles.

We asked him to log onto Spokeo.com, an information aggregating website that puts a lot of personal information in one place, much of it for free.

"Well, it says I'm in my mid-20s, my ethnicity, says I'm in a relationship," Niles said.

It's all information gathered from social networking sites like Facebook, according to the FBI.

"We see that people put out information when they join social networking sites or when they shop online merchants and they don't realize it," said Adrian Hawkins, Special Agent with the FBI.

Internet fraud and financial crimes are on the rise, although Hawkins says they haven't seen any cases as a result of the information aggregating websites -- yet.

KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy says it's all perfectly legal, although unnerving.

"I looked myself up," said Androphy. "I had some personal information on there, not bank account information, but tax information and property information, and things that I sort of kept in confidence."

It used to be that if someone wanted your personal information, they had to go a number of places, like the library or the courthouse or even drive past your house to get information they can now get on the Internet.

Terry Grim of Clear Lake told us hackers got a hold of her Gmail account six weeks ago and emailed her contact list, telling them she was stuck abroad with no cash. Luckily, no one fell for it.

"My background is both technology and as a futurist, so I do understand it," said Grim. "It's almost embarrassing that I was hacked because I give away so little data."

Because Grim says she's extra careful about giving away personal information on the Internet, there was very little about her on Spokeo.com.

As for Niles, he couldn't believe the site had a picture of his mother's home, listed as his address.

"I just don't want someone to find me in this virtual world and then find me in the real world," said Niles.

So what's the fix? The FBI says it's simple - your privacy settings.

"You should review that for every merchant that you shop at and every social networking site," said Hawkins.

It's a fix that could save you what's become priceless -- your privacy.


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