If you've ever done a Google search for your name you'll be shocked at how much information comes up. There are customer profiles on commerce websites, your profile on social networking sites, heck, perhaps even the deed transfer information from when you bought your house. Of course, we all want our friends to be able to find us online, but often times too much information about who we are gets leaked onto the internet. I'm fine with people finding my e-mail address, but finding out where I work, where I live, my phone number and my Amazon wish list is a little too much for me. There are even new sites like http://pipl.com that do deep searching and pull all these details our for any casual searcher.
How can you defend against this sort of thing? Well, one strategy is to muddy the waters. Create blogs and accounts on social networking sites that use the same name as your own and enter bogus details. This can be quite easy to accomplish and may create some confusion as to who is the real you. Another advantage to this strategy is that you can link communications to these identities back to your real e-mail address, so if a friend is trying to find you and they pick out a profile on a social networking site that doesn't match your real info they can still get in touch with you.
I think this phenomena of personal information leaking online is only going to get worse. Now parents are blogging about their children from the moment of birth (there goes date of birth as a confidential piece of information). A dozen years from now classmates will be able to Google one another and see baby pictures. Even worse, predators and stalkers will be able to uncover a frightening amount of personal detail just by poking around online.
Unfortunately this trend started benignly enough. In the early days of the internet, netizens were few in number and happy to publish their contact information so that they could contact one another. With more and more commercial databases leaking online the pieces of information about your identity can be puzzled together faster, and in more frightening detail than ever before.
If you haven't done a web search for your own name lately you definitely should. It's a worthwhile exercise to see what sort of information is coming up, and to take stock of whether or not you want to protect your identity or at least muddy the waters. Of course, you can always start using a pseudonym online, but it'll have to be something catchy like "Mad Irish" :)