I learned about this cool, new Chrome extension or Firefox plugin for Gmail called Rapportive. When you receive an email, it will present to you – to the right of the email – the social networks to which that person belongs. Within a day, I’ve seen links to one or more of the following networks to which my email correspondents belong: Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, Friendster, LiveJournal, Bebo, Hi5, and Flickr. Rapportive also lists the city in which they live, and their current job title(s), not to mention of picture of them (if available).
I think this is way cool, because I get a quick snapshot of people who are contacting me – not just friends, but clients, readers, even the people who send out business newsletters. (For example, I now know the name of the person sending out the Gig Alert from TheHiredGuns (the handle before @thehiredguns.com is very generic, it does not include her name). I also know what she looks like, her various job titles, plus I have links to her profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Friendster, MySpace and Bebo.
Now, if this were you, would you not feel unsettled?
Rapportive simply pulls all this information from publicly aggregated data. They list as their sources Gravatar, Rapleaf and Twitter (Rapportive pulls the recent tweets of your email correspondent so that you can read them right within Gmail). I imagine that your employment information is pulled from LinkedIn.
The service that pulls just about everything but your picture and your tweets is Rapleaf. A few years ago – when they branded themselves as a reputation management company – I registered with them and then realized (to my surprise) that they listed a whole bunch of my online profiles, one of which I had no desire to be made public. (What ever happened to privacy?) That’s when I learned that most of the services listed above (LinkedIn, Flickr, etc.) make public the association between your registered email address and your username or profile link.
I chose to opt out. And you can, too. Removing your email from their database will not solve the general privacy problem on the internet, but at least you can feel at peace knowing that so much information about you won’t be easily accessible.
I realize that these companies probably do this so that your friends can “find” you on their service (for example, when they pull email contacts from your address book and tell you who’s signed up with them). However, we pay a price for this convenience. Granted, you first have to know someone’s email address so that you can then find out what networks they belong to. But just because someone contacts you does not mean they’re explicitly giving you permission to know so much about them. Not all correspondence is business, not all correspondence is pleasure. You may want a business contact to know about your LinkedIn profile, but you may not want them to have access to your Flickr photostream.
One solution, of course, is to be mindful of the email addresses you use to register for different services. If you have a “friend” email address, you can use it to sign up with Flickr and Facebook. If you have a “business” email address, you can use it to sign up with LinkedIn and perhaps a business Twitter account.
This way, at least the folks who are poking around the web will only see the parts of your online identity that you want them to see.
If you want to know what I can see about you in Rapportive, just email me at jeffreykishner at gmail dot com, with “what do you see” in the Subject line. (I won’t share your info with anyone but you.)