In August and September, Evan Ratliff, a writer for Wired issued a challenge. He would attempt to disappear, both online and offline, from his normal life. And readers were encouraged to find him, with financial reward promised. The project has now concluded and his story has been posted.
Many of us think about anonymity on the Internet. But have you ever thought about dropping off the online or even the Real World grid? Changing identities entirely? Well, ok, so maybe black hat hackers do. 🙂 Or perhaps you’ve wanted to know how private investigators work. Or maybe what would happen if a massively public manhunt for some notorious criminal may proceed. Maybe wonder how those FBI Most Wanted lists and television criminal profile specials could possibly be usefulf.
Or maybe you’ve wondered just what “average” people can dig up about someone. Some of the posts pulled out for the article are downright…creepy. How the heck did they get that information legally?
Maybe this is the future for government and private tracking/investigations or even espionage (although more than likely the present)? Sticking to what people know (interests, locations) but also leveraging the draw of our online social lives to reveal small, but dramatically important bits of information, even subterfuge in online interactions. Combining IP addresses with social network information with old-fashioned stakeouts and interviews; the trails we leaves in logs and lives touched.
The article is written pretty quickly and, well, it doesn’t flow very well. But it touches on many amazing topics, from identity to social engineering to the lonliness (even desire to be caught!) and psychology of a mind on the run.
If there is any weakness in this whole adventure, it was that Ratliff didn’t need to pick up a job or want for money…yet. I imagine new challenges appear once you run out of cash and need to make up some money quick, yet stay off the grid or futher legitimize an identity. Likewise, I’m sure the stakes change once real law enforcement starts tracking your existing assets and moving quicker and with more experience on tips and information. I’m sure some aspects of his run are easier for real efforts (ditching gf/family/boss, the silly challenges), and others less so (money, life).
Still, this is a great glimpse into a person on the run, and the grassroots efforts regular people can undertake to track someone of interest in our cyber-real lives.