Project Eavesdrop: NPR’s Story About Our Unintentional Sharing

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Picture courtesy of Ollie Olarte on Flickr. Click to visit his site.

Just what can our Internet activity tell about us, and who can find the information? What do we unintentionally share? We tell our children not to share specifics kinds of personal information, but much of that information is somewhere — in the digital ether — a result of our various digital footprints, searches, apps settings, and smartphone connections, and waiting to be discovered.

Given the news about the massive amount of data collected by the National Security Agency, NPR reporter Steve Henn set out to find out how much of our data “seeps” out, potentially allowing others to learn all kinds of personal information about a person. Henn used himself as a test subject.

He called his story Project Eavesdrop, and NPR featured a radio report and posted the story online during the second week of June 2014 (a time when so many of us, busy with the end of the school year or the beginning of summer activities, missed this story).  

Henn arranged to monitor and collect the Internet traffic in and out of his office and from his phone, and then asked computer security experts to evaluate the data. The results were startling. The data that he shared, merely by searching, signing up for sites, and allowing apps and sites to follow him around, provided enough information to identify his location, his device, and sometimes Henn’s exact identity.

Twenty-first Century digital privacy is far different than the privacy we took for granted before we connected to so many sites and devices via the Internet. This NPR report is worth your time. Listen to the two parts, read the story, and think about how to manage searches, devices, and other digital activities in your family as well as how to talk about privacy in your family.

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