Horsham family’s shock after ‘hacking’ test

Personal details of Heidi and Daren Francis and their sons Harry and James were laid bare during an social experiment into internet usage - picture submitted
Personal details of Heidi and Daren Francis and their sons Harry and James were laid bare during an social experiment into internet usage - picture submitted

A Warnham family’s bank details, ages and income were revealed in just a few hours during an experiment looking at internet browsing history.

Heidi and Daren Francis, who say they are ‘not prolific internet users’ allowed technology expert Rachel O’Connell to access a month of their browsing history as part of a study by internet provider www.hidemyass.com

She only knew them as subjects A, B C and D, but within an hour she had found their personal bank details, recent credit card activity and plans for a family holiday to Italy and their desire for a new car.

By the end of the day she had created a detailed portrait of the family including their household income and the hobbies enjoyed by their sons Harry, 11, and James, nine.

Through Heidi’s Facebook history she also found out the birthdays of four friends.

Heidi, 42, said: “I think we were both shocked and surprised by the picture they could paint of us - what sort of hobbies the boys have.

“They saw that Daren had been on the HMRC website, which is supposed to be a secure site, and seen that he had activated a card. That was a little bit unnerving. It makes you think about how you use the internet.”

Daren, 47, added: “It’s just being conscious of any action you have on the internet. Don’t do anything on there that you would feel uncomfortable them knowing. It’s really an open window into your life. Use it, but use it with caution.”

The results also shocked Dr O’Connell, particularly regarding the links through Facebook.

She found that information a person’s location and demographic can be found without accessing their own profile, but just a friend’s page.

She said: “The issues around this data being accessible, (whether or not your friends and family have given consent and even if you have), is a concern to everyone.

“As it is, I am quiet surprised at just how much I was able to infer about a group of strangers I had never met and knew nothing about.

“I’d feel slightly uncomfortable meeting them face to face, knowing that I had gleaned so much information about their private family life prior to meeting them.”