The Internet Knows Everything: MIT PersonasWeb
Remember in the mid-90′s when people were absolutely paranoid about the Internet, believing that the government knew everything about us and that these “hackers” might be able to steal our information?
Those AOL trial-goers would drop dead if they saw the new project being led by MIT‘s Aaron Zinman, titled “Personas” (alternatively “Personas Web” or “PersonasWeb“. Not sure which one it is, exactly).
What Is Personas?
The page aims to be a data-mining utility aimed at showing just how much the Internet knows about you.
Pulling information from a private(?) database of mined information presumably from crawled web pages, it categorizes all resulting information into labels including but not limited to “Sports”, “Online”, “Legal”, “Illegal”.
How Accurate Is It?
I tried my name (first and last), and it didn’t yield very much. Then again, I never put my full real name on the Internet in the first place, so I have little to worry about.
Individuals with a fairly heavy online presence, such as The Coffee Desk’s own Anthony Cargile, yield much more information. It even gets more interesting when individuals have duplicate names, such as in Anthony’s case and others with generic names.
But as far as how extensive its database is, I’ll be the first to tell you: it’s nowhere near Google-sized. In fact, it’s pretty limited.
Anthony’s name only brought up results from the very bottom of this website, and a firefighter award someone with the same won in the state of Texas. Nevermind the fact that he has two whole websites with his name plastered all over it, and a public Twitter bio.
Try it here: MIT Personas
Tips: try your own name, then those of celebrities and generics like “John Smith” to see the varying result set.
Should We Be Worried?
Fret not, fellow tin foil hat wearing friends – this project is nowhere near a useful datamining utility until it gets better crawlers or gains direct access to Google’s index.
Compared to other datamining tools like Google, Facebook and other social media searching, this site looks like nothing more than a small hobby, size-wise.
And from the looks of it, that description isn’t too far off. It is merely an experimental educational tool.
But be aware: if Persona’s hidden index continues to gain intelligence via more in-depth crawling and other enhancements, then this could spell trouble for those whom value privacy. It may already spell out trouble for people fitting such as description as it stands now.
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