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How Your Username May Betray You 308

An anonymous reader writes "By creating a distinctive username—and reusing it on multiple websites—you may be giving online marketers and scammers a simple way to track you. Four researchers from the French National Institute of Computer Science (INRIA) studied over 10 million usernames—collected from public Google profiles, eBay accounts, and several other sources. They found that about half of the usernames used on one site could be linked to another online profile, potentially allowing marketers and scammers to build a more complex picture the users."
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How Your Username May Betray You

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  • by Toksyuryel ( 1641337 ) on Monday February 14, 2011 @02:16PM (#35201218)
    I thought this was the whole point of using a unique username. If I didn't want a unique identity, I wouldn't have created one for myself.
  • No Shit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lordandmaker ( 960504 ) on Monday February 14, 2011 @02:17PM (#35201238) Homepage

    Seriously, that's almost precisely why I've the same username all over place (amusingly, almost except /.) - so that people who know me on one might recognise me on another.

    I'd imagine that anyone with a desire to not let anyone know where else they go on the net already gets all their usernames out of pwgen or something.

  • Ummm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 14, 2011 @02:20PM (#35201266)

    Hey slashdot, why don't you be ahead of the curve on this and let posters change their username associated with their comments once every few years. Also, being able to delete an occasional comment would be thoughtful too. It's not 1995 anymore on both accounts.

  • by Ray ( 88211 ) on Monday February 14, 2011 @02:27PM (#35201350)

    Give it up. Privacy is gone.

  • by kwerle ( 39371 ) <> on Monday February 14, 2011 @02:32PM (#35201414) Homepage Journal

    Could we just move tautologies to idle? Or maybe we need a /. section called duh...

  • by kamelkev ( 114875 ) on Monday February 14, 2011 @02:34PM (#35201434)

    I work for a growing software company and I have basically used this technique for doing basic background checks on job applicants.

    Back in about 2006 we had someone apply who had a distinctive username that returned a handful of results via a careful google search. Almost all of them were to "alt.drugs.bongmaking" or something similar.

    I didn't care whether the guy/girl had used drugs, but about the complete lack of discretion in the posts. He had actually used his full name and detailed personal information that positively identified him as our applicant. Really sad, and not the only time something like that has happened.

  • by Minwee ( 522556 ) <> on Monday February 14, 2011 @02:35PM (#35201450) Homepage

    You see, that's really THE WHOLE POINT of using the same username in multiple venues. In fact, it's the whole point of having a publicly visible username at all.

    It's there to promote continuity between your various posts. It builds a "brand identity", if that's a phrase that you can use without wanting to punch yourself. If that wasn't what you were trying to do then you shouldn't have registered a user name in the first place.

  • DUH (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jdharm ( 1667825 ) on Monday February 14, 2011 @02:41PM (#35201524)
    Its called 'online presence' and it kind of the point isn't it?
  • Easily avoidable (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Virtex ( 2914 ) on Monday February 14, 2011 @02:48PM (#35201592)
    This kind of tracking is easy to avoid. Just do like me and never post on discussion forums like this one.
  • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Monday February 14, 2011 @02:55PM (#35201682)

    why would anyone wish to hide what brand of jeans they like to wear?

    Because it's none of their business?

    I for one would very much prefer that marketers and ad networks had a good picture of my product preferences so that instead of ads for mortgage refinancing and painfully unfunny t-shirts, I would get advertisements for things that I might actually be interested in.

    There are ads on the Internet?

  • by rickb928 ( 945187 ) on Monday February 14, 2011 @03:10PM (#35201852) Homepage Journal

    Trying to hide from the marketers is almost a Hobson's choice. If I want to obscure my identity, I must:

    - Use multiple identities. Complexity and failure due to other means of tracking me make this fairly pointless.

    - Stop using cloud-based services. There goes Gmail and a bunch of other stuff. So I should be running my own webmail gizmo?

    - Opt-out of all marketing opportunities. Sure, and opting out is actually respected by how many? ESPN keeps turning video autoplay back on when I go there, as if they are going to respect my opting out of newsletters, sharing with other entities that have 'items of interest' to me.

    - Unsubscribe from services when I'm done with the business at hand. And re-enroll two weeks later. Nice, I get to play whack-a-userID as much as I do the thing I actually wanted to do.

    So I don't bother. I'm fairly immune to the sidebar ads I get, I never respond to spam ads, and I am now tending to avoid retailers that obviously use deceptive means to target me. Screw 'em.

    As an example of hilarity; I looked into getting a used shipping container a few months ago to use for storage. Turns out even old beatup ones are pretty expensive. For weeks after that, I would see sidebar ads for shipping containers 'everywhere'. Even today I coudl get one if I go to the 'wrong' site. I was never seriously in the market for containers, but it's a competitive market, and they are persistent.

    Another example; I made the rare mistake of going to a (or was it link for an item. Aw, crap. Now I get those ads all the time. But I recognize them schlepping me ads for 'djebme strap' and ignore them.

    A final example; How often have I actually clicked a link to to look for something specific, as a last resort, and find that they actually don't have ANY sources, but 'check back real soon'! Argh. And you can be sure I'll be peppered with ads for that item for a while. Grrr.

    It's a lot like old fashioned junk mail, except I don't even need to carry it to the dumpster. It could be worse.

    And it probably is. My only fear is that I will eventually get categorized, and red-lined so that I never see ads for what I actually want, but I see ads that are shoveling me something I don't want, but 'they' are trying to steer me to. This is entirely illegal in financing, but not quite yet in retailing. We'll see if it should be or not.

  • by joeszilagyi ( 635484 ) on Monday February 14, 2011 @04:50PM (#35202912)

    A Real Man who wants to visit websites will load each site in a separate browser instance with a unique agent string and a different browser vendor and build each time with all cookies and scripts (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 87th party, etc.) hard-blocked, and only from within a series of totally unique VM environments of no less than Windows XP (Home and Pro), Vista (all 4,556 varieties), Win 7 (all varieties) and no less than 1,396 versions and flavors of Linux or Unix derived operating systems, and each randomly selected for each site visit, which are only done from a Tor onion connection running inside of the VM, which is in turn routed through a Tor onion connection running from the top-level main desktop that you're doing all this from, and each VM is promptly rolled back to pre-website status after your visit is done--and that's for EVERY SINGLE VISIT. ANYTHING LESS THAN THIS LETS THE INTERNET RAYS PENETRATE YOUR TINFOIL THINKING CAP.

Someday your prints will come. -- Kodak