This post was updated on 2/23/14.
I’ve seen a few articles lately about how the username and the password are past their prime and it’s time to find a replacement. I think the same could be said for profile pictures, in the interest of of privacy.
If I get your profile picture I have a good shot of finding your Facebook or Twitter profile. Though not perfect, Google’s Search by Image can sometimes find exact matches.
If I get your first name and the picture, I can guarantee I could find your last name.
Once someone has your first and last name plus a profile picture, they can find a lot out about you. It gets creepy.
Using a website like peekyou or pipl, anyone can look up all public online accounts with your name. This includes facebook, foursquare, twitter, google plus, youtube, vimeo, instagram, photobucket, flickr, tumblr, imgur, forums, etc. The list continues on and on. Old accounts you don’t even remember. If the search results on your name even reference a possible username you might use elsewhere online, that opens up a whole new realm of privacy concerns.
Someone could just google your name in quotes and read snippets of news articles posted online. They could find out sports competitions you participated in. Honor roll listings. Awards and other recognitions. Any warrants or arrests posted by your local police.
Not to mention the whitepages. A typical whitepages listing includes address, phone number, and relatives. Once someone has your address there’s Google Street View and Bing Bird’s Eye View which can give someone an idea of what your house looks like and what kind of car you drive.
And all this just scratches the surface. The point I’m trying to make here is that all of this is free so anyone can look you up. If you are concerned with your privacy you can change your settings on your various websites or request content to be deleted from others. However, never expect to be able to go completely off the grid. If it’s online now, expect it to exist somewhere on the web in some form for a long, long time.
Update: I have just learned that WhatsApp has new privacy features that allow users to hide their profile picture, their last seen, and their status from the public. I think this is very important. All social networks of all kinds, including messaging apps, should have this functionality. Let the users have full control over what they share with the public.