You Cannot Hide From the Public Record Search Engines
As a search engine optimization specialist, I often run across search engines of different sorts than most people are aware of. This week I stumbled across a free site that is used by journalists to do background checks and fact checking on sources of news stories. I am also an advocate for personal and financial privacy and find privacy invasion particularly offensive, so this search engine offends me.
The http://www.pretrieve.com/ Free Public Record Search Engine - Person Search is an example of the databasification of all public records. It's instructive to take a look at the results of a search for yourself in this free people search engine that is apparently used often by journalists. The linked page above takes you to the site home page which is a form allowing you to search for a person, business, address or phone number and the results pages can be frightening.
The results are listed as questions on the Pretrieve.com site in a row of tabs labeled "Property Info, Criminal, Court, Professional, Local Info, Miscellaneous" and the "Criminal" tab (Criminal) inserts your name or that of the person you are searching for in each possible source of criminal information under a link labeled "Registered Sex Offender Search" then a question with the searched name and state inserted: "Is anyone named (your name here) a registered sex offender in "your state here"? If you searched for your own name, it appears in that frightening position and startles you quite handily.
The arrangement of tabs with criminal info first must be done for the dramatic effect it has on what would otherwise be a rather mundane search of bland information. But when I went ahead and pressed that frightening link, I got a gratifying "no information could be found" result page. Whew! Then again on the link leading to the "Federal Inmate Search" I got a gratifying "Sorry. No Inmate Named (Your name here) Race: unspecified Sex: unspecified found." on the new window launched on the Federal "Bureau of Prisons" site search.
Since I write frequently online, there are hundreds of sources of information on me available in one of the results tabs labled "professional", I was happy to see that my occupation was correctly listed as "Search Engine Optimization Specialist" with sources coming mainly from resource boxes of my articles appearing across the web.
The interface of the Pretrieve.com result page also links you to organizations that have published information about you and fills in the name information, going directly to a search on the name entered at the new site. The interface of Pretrieve.com links you to their sources by launching new windows at different web sites and prepopulating the search forms with the name and state info.
The "professional" affiliations are tracked by a site called "Eliyon.com Business People Search" where links to web mentions are tied to the byline of my articles. Seems their forte is finding business mentions to connect with names. OK. But I was surprised to see that one company that I work with was incorrectly listed as being in Northern California, when they are in fact in Southern California. Oh, and they incorrectly named, but correctly linked to the web site of that company.
This type of error is probably common in online databases and is one of the biggest problems with this type of data aggregation. It is not kept current or accurate by all sources and there are others with the same name, etc. There is a prominent link on the Eliyon.com site labeled "Log in to Update your Profile" or the Didn't find yourself? Add your profile!" link is ridiculous. Why give them info they don't have so they give it to everyone else?
The Property Info tab is truly offensive as it gives you a link to the county tax assessors office record of any property owned by someone you've searched for. Plus their home address, square footage of their house, how much it is worth and amount of taxes owed on it. Oh, and phone number, street address, zip code.
The multiple other options take you to financial records such as bankruptcy filings, political contributions, defaulted loans and dozens of other possible financial records you don't want the world to see. Why is this acceptable - and the bigger question - why is this legal?
A very interesting note comes from the Pretrieve.com privacy page where they make this curious statement: "It may seem contrary for a company dedicated to making public information more easily accessible to be an ardent supporter of information privacy, but the fact is we take information privacy rights extremely seriously. We believe public information should be open and made available to everyone as adamantly as we believe private information should remain private."
But doesn't making all sources of public information easily available, make possible private information easily available along with it? Actually, this only applies to informaiton directly available on the pretrieve site, which is nothing other than your computer and connection info as they don't require registration to use their service. They do place cookies on your hard drive so the site will not work if you turn off that option in your browser. The information business seems to be full of contradictions.
Mike Banks Valentine © copyright March 9, 2005
Mike Banks Valentine operates http://PrivacyNotes.com/privacy_blog/ Web Privacy Tutorial at: http://privacynotes.com/Phone_number_privacy.html And Performs Ethical Search Engine Optimization http://www.seoptimism.com/SEO_Contact.htm Press Release Optimization & Distribution Online If you've got news you can rank top for your search phrases
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