Thanks to the Internet, there are no such things as secrets.
Everyone who uses the Internet knows that the world is at their fingertips. Privacy is a thing of the past. Giving away too much information can cause problems ranging from mild embarrassment to job trouble to identity theft. I know all this, but it’s still creepy how much I can find with minimal effort.
I’m filling out a rental application to be added to my husband’s lease. Part of the application is providing evidence of my rental history. It’s a common question and I thought I’d saved the information, but I couldn’t find it. Good thing I have a computer.
My most recent landlord was easy to find. He’s listed on www.whitepages.com. He has a common name, so it was helpful that he lives in a smallish town and that I recognized his address when I saw it. My first landlord was also a cinch. He, too, was in the White Pages, I knew his address and his name is unique.
The middle landlord was the hardest to find, but I found the most about her. I wonder if she thinks being unlisted protects her privacy? It caused me to learn far more about her than I needed. The White Pages had no listing for her, but suggested sponsored links where I might get her information. There are tons of these sites that, for a small fee, will sell you a startling amount of personal information about a person. PeopleSmart.com, MyLife, Archives.com, Intelius and other search sites are just plain creepy. Most of the sites offer a free trial, but suspiciously require you to provide credit card information. They’ll show tidbits about the person to tempt you, then require you to subscribe for the full dirt. Some even claim access to social networking pages like Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, and Pandora for users who keep their profiles closed (private). You can also pay them to tell you who’s searching for you online.
I wasn’t interested in subscribing, nor did I want the full dirt. I just wanted a phone number. I decided to broaden to a whole Google search. I know her maiden name, and her married name is unique. I quickly hit pay dirt.
First I found that she has a Facebook page. I sent her a message (even though we’re not FB “friends”) reminding her who I was and why I wanted her number. That could take too long, though, and she may never respond. Next, I read a story about her written by the local newspaper in 2007. A slightly deeper search yielded:her husband’s name and occupation, her kids’ names, ages, photos and private school, her current and previous addresses and when she moved, her previous occupation, exactly how much and when she donated to specific political campaigns and organizations, how much she was offered to sell certain properties and by whom, what she said at a city planning and zoning meeting, organizations she has volunteered for and advisory boards she’s a part of, photos of her entire family, where she went to high school and what year she graduated, the date of her 20-year-high school reunion and her senior picture and her email address, among other things.
Wow. I also found what I was looking for, a phone number. But my former roommate replied to my inquiry with a different number, so either the one I found was wrong or she has multiple numbers. They’re both cell numbers with the area code of the state she used to live in, so perhaps she has a business number and personal number. Really, that’s all I wanted.
The most revealing sources were the website Issuu, because it had the booklet for her class reunion, and Pipl, which provided a pageful of links to original content bearing her name. Pipl is really something else. The site explains why it’s better (or more diabolical?) than other searches:
There are various reasons why you might need to search for people. You may need to find a lost relative, an old flame, a classmate or a business contact. Using a search engine such as Google or Yahoo to search for people might work in some cases, but in most cases, it won’t.
How come the best search engines fail so miserably when it comes to people search? The answer lies in a little known but very important part of the web called “the deep web“.
Also known as “invisible web”, the term “deep web” refers to a vast repository of underlying content, such as documents in online databases that general-purpose web crawlers cannot reach. The deep web content is estimated at 500 times that of the surface web, yet has remained mostly untapped due to the limitations of traditional search engines.
Since most personal profiles, public records and other people-related documents are stored in databases and not on static web pages, most of the higher-quality information about people is simply “invisible” to a regular search engine.
Pipl’s query-engine helps you find deep web pages that cannot be found on regular search engines.
Unlike a typical search-engine, Pipl is designed to retrieve information from the deep web. Our robots are set to interact with searchable databases and extract facts, contact details and other relevant information from personal profiles, member directories, scientific publications, court records and numerous other deep-web sources.
Pipl is not just about finding more results; we are using advanced language-analysis and ranking algorithms to bring you the most relevant bits of information about a person in a single, easy-to-read results page.
So how much control do you have over your privacy? The landlord I was searching for is a public figure in some ways. Not only does she own numerous rental properties, she’s very involved in her community. For comparison, I searched myself on Pipl. I tried both my maiden name and my married name in the various cities with which I’ve been associated. I was pleased to find far less information about myself, and lots of hits were other people who share my maiden name. Maybe I’m doing an OK job of keeping to myself.
Basic Google searches yielded differing amounts depending on which name/combo of names I used. Most results had to do with my blog or my wedding announcement/registry. One website (which I won’t name, for my protection), actually had a picture of my mom’s house with the profile it created for me. It almost knew who I was: of gender, race, income, astrological sign, interests, age, and children, it was only 50% correct. Some of the data was correct for my mom rather than for me. It listed the area code and first three digits of the phone number, the street address without house number, and the email address with all but the provider asterisked out. All of this was given for free. I’m almost tempted to pay to see what else they would say about me.
The moral of the story? Be very discerning about the information you give out about yourself. There’s already more out there than most would feel comfortable with. People are spying on you for a living.