okcupid

You are naked on the Internet

March 13, 2012 at 7:53 PM ET

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Unless you’re Ted Kaczynski circa 1985, living deep in the woods of Montana far from one of the roving homeless 4G connections we so conveniently enjoy here at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, your illusion of privacy is a sad, pathetic, ridiculous joke.

Providing a much-needed wake-up call to those of you who think your spouse or partner will never know about your dalliances at the local hot-sheets motel (as long as you protect your password), “Sex, Dating, and Privacy Online Post-Weinergate” described the myriad ways in which every step you take, every move you make, is online and searchable.

You don’t have to be a prominent politician sexting pics of your junk to be vulnerable to the brave new world of naked data, panel members said. You may have heard that Facebook and dating-site messages are commonly subpoenaed by divorce lawyers. Did you know, however, that basic facial recognition software — available free online — can expose your real identity from a photo scraped from OKCupid? That’s right — any nude photo with a face attached can now become a porn image with you listed as the star attraction.

Internet smarty-pants Clay Shirky has argued that in the long run, privacy won’t matter because online nudity will eventually be the norm. But you live in the short run. What precautions can you take to avoid becoming the subject of an unpleasant public discussion?

Panel member Violet Blue, a sex educator and tech columnist, pointed to the loose security and privacy practices of dating websites recently exposed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. OKCupid, eHarmony, Match.com, Plenty of Fish, Ashley Madison, Grindr and others are all too open about your personal business in ways you may not have imagined.

Here are several examples offered as part of EFF’s “Six Heartbreaking Truths about Online Dating Privacy":

In January, an Australian hacker exploited a security flaw in Grindr, the mobile app that allows gay and questioning men to find sexual partners nearby through the use of GPS technology. The vulnerability allows an attacker to impersonate another user, send messages on his behalf, access sensitive data like photos and messages, and even view passwords.

While this isn’t the case for every online dating site, OKCupid profiles are public by default and indexed by Google. It’s a simple privacy setting, but it can trip up even advanced users, as Wikileaks' Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange learned last year when his publicly-accessible OKCupid profile was discovered. Even something as small as a unique turn of phrase could show up in search results and bring casual visitors to your page.

Last October researcher Jonathan Mayer discovered that OKCupid was actually leaking personal data to some of its marketing partners. Information such as age, drug use, drinking frequency, ethnicity, gender, income, relationship status, religion and more was leaked to online advertiser Lotame.

Learn more about how to protect your naked data on the EFF website.

More stories about life on the Internet from msnbc.com:

Helen A.S. Popkin goes blah blah blah about the Internet. Tell her to get a real job on Twitter and/or Facebook. Also, Google+.

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