There’s a brilliant clip doing the rounds on Youtube this week, showing a ‘mind-reader’ at work. “Dave” astonishes his subjects by revealing amazingly precise and intimate details about them… from their body art to how much they spent in the pub last night. Then at the end he sweeps aside the curtain to show how he did it…
It put me in mind of going to see the amazing Derren Brown in London a few years back, in a show finale where he claimed to mimic the old style music hall mediums and mind readers. He called out individual members of the audience by name, and told them specific and detailed things, “your cat just had eight kittens”, “You made blueberry cupcakes at the weekend and they tasted better than they looked”, “you´re very excited about… mmm, let me see… something to do with travel… yes, you’re going to Australia, how fantastic!” Lots of build-up and gesturing to the ether, the as the detail crystallised from the mental rays or spirit voices… Derren is a fantastic showman as his many fans will testify, and if you get the chance to catch him live I highly recommend it.
He also has an unusually highly trained memory. Whilst he is careful like any magician never to reveal how his tricks are performed, he has specifically clarified on more than one occasion that he claims no actual supernatural or telepathic skills. In fact, he has done a great deal to debunk frauds in this industry, especially those who prey on the vulnerable.
The day after the show, I went on Facebook, because a couple of the names called out had stuck in my mind. And there it was – yes, Lucy Christopher, London, and profile was completely open to the world,, as she eagerly anticipated her trip of a lifetime Down Under. Now, I don´t know exactly how Derren does any of his mind-bending tricks, but I would be willing to bet that Lucy and the others named from the stage were the lead persons in their party, who made the booking in their own name. Out of a theatre seating over a thousand it was still a mind-boggling feat of memory, to point to where they were sitting (he was blindfolded) and ‘sense’ all this profile information about them, never mind repeat this performance night after night. But if anyone could do that, it’s Derren.
A couple others checked out too… this was back in maybe 2008, and perhaps people simply weren´t as careful about online privacy. But so much of the profile information Facebook asks for is really personal, and vulnerable. Schools attended? Hello, this is a top online banking security question, if you really have to share this with Facebook, do NOT share your profile with the world!
Your bank has invested heavily in the security of its online login system, but the vast majority of breaches come from human sharing, spilling of beans. Phishing scams, people being duped into entering their password where they shouldn’t. The person who rang up from your insurance company and just needed to check your mother´s maiden name as it wasn´t filled in properly on their records – where did they really call from, and what other pieces of information about you could they combine that with, to do you some serious damage along the lines of identify fraud or straightforward theft? Whose geolocated photos are you tagged in, is that a picture of your actual home on Facebook – because it’s pretty distinctive actually, combined with the name of the small town you live in, and that photo just proved you are on holiday in another country just now with all your family…
This all ties in with the Facebook ‘privacy scandal’ we discussed last week, because the problem is we forget what we share. We give up control and privacy, in exchange for the right to use platforms like Facebook to share as and when we want, and it often seems to be those who rant and rave about the sites most of all who are the ones posting every update as public and sharing their profile as public! If you share things as ‘public’, (the little globe icon rather than just with your friends), it is just that, public – searchable, indexable, and forever.
Of course, some things just don’t need to be shared full stop, and you can never be certain that anything shared with your friends stops there… just as you could not stop a person forwarding on a personal email, yes they might be violating your trust and your privacy and there may even be legal implications, BUT when it’s done it cannot be undone, ever. Information ripples outwards in ever more frictionless ways, when we want to share this is a good thing, but it can easily spin out of control. If I tag my friend in a photo of us both, all her friends can see it and comment on it, and whether they can share it or not depends on my friends’ privacy settings, not mine!
Be aware, be careful, remember there is rarely any such thing as truly private or deleted. Share consciously, in a considered way, when you understand exactly with whom you are sharing… and keep an eye on what you have shared in the past, just to remind yourself what’s already out there (googling your full name, “in quotes”, is a good start).
And if someone tries to ‘read your mind’ anytime, do ask yourself if they are not simply reading your online profile instead.
Published in Costa Blanca News, 26th October 2012