Only Metadata

Tales from a software engineer and geek

Only Metadata

Armed with only a pen, a notepad, and a watch, I take up a position on your street. No one notices the average looking man in an average looking vehicle parked on the average neighborhood street. I write down the time that each person leaves their respective residence. I spend all day noting each of the activities going on at each address. When someone leaves or arrives, when the mail is delivered, the time UPS and Fedex make their rounds. The process takes several days, but I finally get a clear pattern of activity.

It’s only metadata.

You drive a really nice car, and have a very lovely home. You leave at 8am and get home at 6pm, Monday through Friday. The mail is delivered at 3pm, and the occasional package from UPS arrives from Amazon at around 5pm. Your gardeners come on Thursdays at 8:30am. Your neighbors both leave between 8:30am and 9am, and do not return until after 6pm. Their wives take the kids to school, and are gone until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. On an average weekday, between 9am and 2pm, your home is alone. Left to defend itself. That’s a nice big box from Amazon, wonder what you bought this time?

It’s only metadata.

On Tuesday at 10am, I’ll walk up to your house wearing a polo shirt, a baseball cap, and carrying a clipboard. “Just an average looking guy doing his job,” your neighbors will think, should any thought about my presence occur to them at all. I’ll knock on your door a couple of times, and watch for any movement in the windows. No dog.

It’s only metadata.

I grab your door knob and give it a twist. It’s locked. Glancing into the street first to make sure the coast is clear, I proceed around to the side of your house. Windows are all closed and locked. I make my way to the backyard. Still no dog. Your backdoor was not locked, and there are two windows wide open. But, they’re both on the second floor. A ladder is kept leaning against your shed. I make a phone call, and minutes later a van arrives. Just an average looking box truck with a couple more average looking gentlemen. They back into your driveway.

 It’s only metadata.

 

 

“Distant,” your wife thinks to herself, “lately, he’s been really distant. Stress at work maybe?” She feels something is wrong, but can’t place her finger on it. You’ve been coming home from work an hour later than normal, and once a week you’ve been getting cash out of the ATM.

It’s only metadata.

The behavior stretches for weeks. She asks friends and family if she should worry. Looking over the phone bill, she doesn’t see any strange phone calls. There is an increase in the number of texts and pictures being sent. You signed up for the family location service to help keep tabs on your teenage son. She logs in, and looks at your location history. It shows you drive towards a hotel once a week, but it loses the signal when it’s about a mile away. The signal returns when you pull into your driveway.

It’s only metadata.

 

 

Random items around the house are disappearing. “Wonder what I did with my coin collection?” You ask yourself. It’s just the latest in a line of stuff you’ve noticed venturing into the ether, never to be seen again. Your closet appears somewhat shuffled, when normally it’s neat and tidy. The thought gets dismissed almost immediately, you woke up late yesterday and must have accidentally moved things around. “Now where did I put my necklace?”

It’s only metadata.

There’s a knock at the door. Undoubtedly it’s the babysitter, “come in!” you bellow from the bedroom. As you walk into the living room, you take note of her new iPhone. “Oooh, is that the latest one?” She nods. “We’ll be back by 9,” you inform her as you notice her new purse. “Here’s some money to order a pizza.”

It’s only metadata.

 

 

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