The truth is out there, and that's what's scary.
With all the information out on the Internet today, it's hard not to worry about all the personal stuff anyone can find. It may just be that cute girl in class checking you out online, but it could be a cyberstalker or an angry ex.
Curious about what these people would find, I decided to snoop on myself, searching for everything that I could using free sites.
Let's start with the easy stuff. Using just the name in my byline above, I was able to look up my home address and phone number. The Toledo phone book is enough for this, actually, but it's also online at sites like www.zabasearch.com, www.anywho.com, or www.411.com.
My name is pretty common, so strangers might have to do some cross-referencing to make sure they've got the right guy, but it's all there. (Finding my personal e-mail addresses, however, was another story. I couldn't find mine anywhere, though a number of sites tried to help.)
At www.infospace.com, you can find the names and phone numbers of my neighbors, and the Maps function on Google offers a satellite view of the apartment building I call home.
(If I did own a home, www.zillow.com and some county auditor's sites provide assessed values, tax information, even photos and sketches in some cases.)
In many ways, my online persona is not that interesting. I've never owned property, never been arrested (check the Web if you don't believe me), never been married, never had children. So nothing is going to show up in those areas.
But there are still a few unexpected things out there. Among the items I found, using Google and other sources:
Not only that, you can find out that I worked for the weekly college newspaper, read stories that I authored on everything from croquet to college elections, and even see a picture of me from 1997 with big(ger) glasses and my dad's old butterfly collar bowling shirt.
There's no hiding from the speeding ticket I got in Toledo two years ago, thanks to the data available through the clerk of Toledo Municipal Court Web site (www.tmc-clerk.com).
I checked the Perrysburg Municipal Court site (www.perrysburgcourt.com) for traffic tickets and it looks like I'm clear there. Whew! One of the editors here, on the other hand ... well, for him it even lists his weight, height, eye color, and date of birth.
Many of my stories are available through The Blade's Web site, but also through other sites and blogs that have linked to them over the years. My work phone and e-mail are at the bottom of every article.
The Audio search function on Yahoo! quickly pulls up recordings I made to narrate slide shows for different articles. As a result, people can hear and see me online.
That's aside from the pictures of me on a Norwegian man's Web site from the World Rock Paper Scissors Championships I attended in Toronto a couple of years ago. Those popped up when I was looking for images through Google.
There's a lot more out there, but it would have cost me some dinero. Web sites promise everything from criminal background checks to reports on bankruptcies and liens.
"Anything's out there for a price, I can guarantee," said Lt. Mel Stachura, who is in charge of the technical crimes section of the Toledo Police Department.
It can be creepy to know that there's so much information available. To think of the potential for harm, it's even worse.
If it makes you feel any better, Patrick Wainscott, a licensed investigator and owner of A1 Investigations in Lima, said online data may not be as helpful as some might think.
"Typically, the information that they can locate is often older information, outdated information," he said.
The special databases that he pays to access as an investigator require a valid reason and a copy of his investigator's license to help keep the information out of the wrong hands.
But there's so much information out there, it's hard to keep tabs on it all. Lieutenant Stachura suggests that people do searches on themselves from time to time, just to know what's floating around.
"I've Googled myself to see what's out there," he said. "You can find a myriad of information."
Contact Ryan E. Smith at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6103.