Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Internet Never Forgets

"Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead". And the Internet is the last place you want to use to keep a secret.

The Beijing Olympics 2008 came to a close last week. Sports are being laced with an increasing amount of controversies every year, and the Beijing Olympics 2008 was no exception. Many officials doubted the age of the Chinese women's gymnastics team. And a sleuth by the nickname of "Stryde Hax" went to work digging up the Internet for clues.

On August 19, Mike Walker published a blog post under the name of Stryde Hax showing evidence unearthed from the Internet that China had attempted to falsify the ages of two female gymnasts. There were others before Mike who had also followed the same route. The first of such Internet evidence was referenced in the New York Times on July 27th, almost two weeks before the opening ceremony. The Huffington Post carried an article on August 14th detailing thoroughly how evidence from the Internet was uncovered.

Mike Walker, the New York Times, The Huffington Post, all followed a simple approach - let us search the Internet for Chinese sports records documents. Surely these gymnasts would have certainly participated in local and national competitions. Press coverage and sports records would indicate their age. All it took was knowing some advanced search options, proper keywords and some online translation from Chinese to English. Search engines like Google and Baidu (the most popular Chinese search engine) yielded links to documents belonging to the Sports Authority of China and some other press coverage on local and national sporting events. Not surprisingly, many of these documents were removed from their original web sites and news stories had been modified where the age was changed from 14 to 16, but the Internet never forgets. Cached copies of these documents existed in many search engines. Projects such as The Internet Archive keep a copy of almost all web pages since 1996! And sure enough, these documents turned up in caches and archives all over.

On August 21st, the IOC announced that a formal investigation has been initiated into this matter.

Links to detailed analysis of how it was done, along with the original documents, can be found on the CyberWatch blog - see article Beijing Olympics Controversy.

Lastly, I would like to sensitize every Internet user about their privacy. Be careful of what you upload to sites on the Internet. You will never be able to get rid of it again, it is "remembered" forever.

Published: Times of India, Ahmedabad, 27-Aug-08

No comments: