Monday, February 26, 2007

WJLA does demonstration of data-mining of personal information from the Web


On February 26, 2007 Washington DC ABC affiliate WJLA did a demonstration with two subjects about the ease with which personal information (such as home address, names of relatives, comp values of homes in neighborhoods) may be found from free sources on the Web with search engines. Some of this information may come from "skip tracer" sites like zabasearch.

People concerned about their privacy (and that of family members) should never post home addresses on public sites. (Obviously people should not post such information about other individuals or families; there might be an issue with "digital vigilante" sites concerning bad behavior witnessed and filmed in public; discussion here.) People should consider using PO Boxes, or land address mail-box services run by companies like UPS. People can consider registering web domains with private registration for small extra fees (which means that the registration company can serve as an intermediary to contact the domain owner for legal purposes). Even so, very determined gumshoes could track them down with these skip-tracer sites. Here is a letter to me from Congressman Jim Moran (D 8th Dist. VA) in 2005 about the legality of these sites.

WJLA made some simple suggestions to protect privacy, such as unlisted phone numbers and not filling out Internet surveys. The tone of the report suggests that in the future legislators might address the legality of what people post about others on blogs and social networking sites.

Even so, of credit grantors practiced the appropriate due diligence to notify those receiving credit properly, as already discussed in this blog, this would be a much less serious problem.

The WJLA story can be accessed here.