Social networking software

New Tool Makes Online Stalking Easier

You say your life is an open book, you don't give a damn about privacy, and you welcome complete strangers into the deepest darkest caverns of your Internet existence?

Have I got a service for you.

[ See also: Facebook ads use your face for free ]

It's called Voyurl, and as the name kind of implies, it offers a voyeuristic view into all of the URLs you and your friends have been visiting. Just install the Voyurl plug in for Chrome or Firefox; log in via Twitter, Facebook, or your e-mail address; and quietly stalk your friends across the Web (if they're also members of Voyurl).

You can also see the URLs of total strangers and go in depth into their surfing histories. Of course, if you look deep enough, they're not total strangers for very long.

For example: I learned that a Voyurl user named DiscoNotDisco lives in Brooklyn, is shopping for athletic shoes, is a big Lady Gaga fan, likes the Old Spice Guy (who doesn't?), has an account on the OKcupid dating site, and has a public Facebook profile with almost no privacy settings. So I now have a trove of info about him. And it turns out I may actually know the guy, in a social-media-twice-removed kind of way.

Or take ecsjjgg, a Swedish file swapper. Thanks to the fact he recently checked his e-mail, I now know his real name and Hotmail address. Judging by his taste on YouTube and the game modding forums he's a member of, I'm betting he's in his late teens. He apparently has a thing for stick-thin British fashion model Agyness Deyn. (Frankly, I don't see the appeal.)

From Theschnaz's profile I managed to deduce his real identity (an NYC-based tech entrepreneur), which lead me to his Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn pages. That one was especially easy, because he used his Twitter identity to log in. Sorry to hear about all those problems getting your Constant Contact e-mail newsletter to work correctly, Schnaz; hope you can clear that up soon.

You can make your stream anonymous, so the URLs you visit are displayed but not connected with your Voyurl user name. You can delete individual URLs if you're worried about what your fellow Voyurlers might think. And you can click the Voyurl button at the top of your browser to turn off capture if you venture into those areas of the WebberNets your mother warned you about.

But even anonymity isn't exactly anonymous. I managed to follow one "anonymous" user as he made flight reservations and looked up escort services in Vancouver. I'm pretty sure he visited his own tumbler blog, which uses a person's name as its title and provides an e-mail address. Looks like old 'anon' is planning a trip to Canada and looking for some companionship.

And of course, Voyurl captured me shadowing all these folks. So somebody out there on Voyurl could be drawing all kinds of erroneous conclusions about me -- like I'm a Swedish file-swapping entrepreneur who's big into Lady Gaga and looking for a busty trollop in Saskatchewan. (Not true on all counts.)

Admittedly, many Voyurls lead to a log-in page, so while you'll know what places people frequent, you often can't see what they do there. And of course, this is all voluntary. Nobody's forcing anyone to use it. Like a vampire, Voyurl isn't going to capture your Web history (or bite you in the neck) without you explicitly inviting them in and saying "Here, have at it." But anyone who uses Voyurl should realize they are leaving themselves wide open to snoops, stalkers, and identity thieves.

This is both voyeurism and narcissism taken to new extremes. Personally, I cannot imagine why anyone would use Voyurl. But I know some people will.

ITworld TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan finds it hard to believe his Web surfing is interesting to anyone but himself -- and then, just barely -- but you never know. Experience his juvenile sense of humor at eSarcasm (Geek Humor Gone Wild) or follow him on Twitter:@tynan_on_tech.

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