It took experts just three hours to discover my wife's name and two pictures of my home
I HAVE always believed that I was reasonably discreet. Now I know otherwise.
Yesterday afternoon I gave three pieces of information to a Dublin-based security company called Risk Management International (RMI) to see what they could discover about me online in just three hours using legal methods.
The three pieces of information were my name, address and date of birth. The report the company returned a few hours later was disconcerting to say the least.
It came with two detailed pictures of my current home (which does not appear on Google's street view) as well as detailed information about how I borrowed for my last mortgage and who bought that house which was also pictured.
Other information included the name of my wife, details of a charity where I once volunteered, and the universities where I studied.
The report correctly found that there were no debt problems, or High Court judgments against me in the Republic or Northern Ireland.
While this was all okay, perhaps the most worrying aspect of the report was a line about the possible reasons why I left a previous job.
The explanation included an old story that RMI got factually correct – but still painted me in an unflattering light that distorted the truth and would almost certainly give a potential employer pause for thought.
To my surprise, the background check did not unearth an attempted prosecution (linked to a newspaper story) that was eventually dropped.
Perhaps that failed prosecution would have been unearthed in a longer search. RMI usually spends between seven and 10 hours online to carry out a search that also includes a study of online connections and indicators of interest in sporting sites.
The company can also carry out international searches and do a blanket property search in Ireland, as well as some reverse searches to the UK.
It also has a partnership with 'Stubbs Gazette' to check credit ratings for individuals and the like.
For an employer or anybody else who is really nosy, that is only the beginning. RMI then sends the file to an investigator who carries out enquiries in the real world, rather than the online world.
"The demand here is for people who cannot be found through normal means," said a spokesman for RMI.
"We have a 100pc record of finding such people both at home and abroad with leads from online searches as well as tip-offs from disgruntled former business associates, partners and so on."
I picked RMI because an executive at the company once told me that people aged 30 to 50 were probably the worst offenders when it came to handing out data willy-nilly.
He reckoned the young have enough technical knowledge to protect themselves to some degree, while the elderly tend not to place a video of themselves on YouTube or Facebook. I had smugly assumed I was smart enough to avoid the common pitfalls of my age cohort, although today I know I am not.
If a law-abiding firm like RMI can discover so much data in a few hours, what could be discovered by an individual hacker who was prepared to flout the law?