Full disclosure: I am not planning on disappearing and in fact I kinda like my little life just as it is. Nevertheless, Frank M. Ahearn has written a very accessible book on how to (and not to) disappear if you want/need to. Of course the criminal or terrorist comes to mind when you think about those needing to disappear. Ahearn however discusses numerous other legitimate folks who have wanted to disappear for mundane to very sad reasons (mundane: avoiding greedy family members; sad: avoiding ex-spouses who want you dead).
Ahearn got into the disappearing business by finding people. He was the guy who found you living in a trailer park outside of Vegas (or Balzac for us Canadians). He was able to find you through a bit of subterfuge and was able to get your current address from websites, utility companies or nice companies who have sold you goods or services in the past. Thus, while you were living under a pseudonym in Balzac, you transferred your warrant registration for your Harley Davidson motorcycle and you kept up your subscription to Pot-Pori-Monthly.
Ahearn got out of the finding people business because the tools of his trade were becoming increasingly illegal. Thus, he got into the other side of the business – how to fall off the radar. For us Canadians, it appears that many of the tools Ahearn mentions are specific to the United States. However, that is probably more of a temporary state of affairs rather than a bit of permanent protection. Some of the tools he (continues to use)/used include:
- http://www.intelius.com: Searches billions of US public records for name, phone number, email addresses, etc.
- http://google.about.com/od/googlebasics/qt/phonebook.htm: Google Phone Book, it seems this feature is now disabled… for us mortals, who knows about the techno-gods.
- http://yahoo.canada411.ca: basically the good old white pages or 411-Directory Assistance.
- http://www.addresses.com: limited to the United States
- http://www.peekyou.com: a generally scary site which mashes together a number of data sources.
- http://www.peoplesearchpro.com/journalism/people/: a how to guide for journalists to find people.
Even if you do not want to disappear, Ahearn suggests that you make yourself less visible on the web and perhaps in general. He stresses to keep this above board (e.g. nothing illegal and keep on paying your taxes; however he does have a great speculative section on Pseudocide – how to fake your own death). If you need no other reason, it is to avoid identity theft.
Some of his recommendations (fleshed out a bit from some web-searches) include:
- Remove your real birthdate from all social media, in particular facebook
- Do not use your full name in email addresses associated with your personal life, e.g. FPotter rather than frank.potter@….
- Only accept social media friends from people you know and who you speak with periodically.
- Use different email addresses for different sites so they cannot be mashed up together. Don’t use a variation on an email either (e.g. Fpotter1, fpotter2, etc.).
I don’t need to disappear, but I do have enough of a spy novel fascination with it to enjoy the read. I also value my privacy enough to want to ensure I am not dangly more than I need to on the web. Now go and remove your real birthdate from Facebook – RIGHT NOW!
For more on Ahearn book: How to Disappear: Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trails, and Vanish without a Trace