Saturday, June 01, 2013

BeenVerified - How do YOU spell CREEPY?

Apparently has been thriving in the shadows of the Web since about 2011, and I just didn't know about it.  You go to the site and it offers a default "people search" of public records, but also lists telephone, address, e-mail and professional contacts searches.  They offer a snappy video explaining the sources of their public records, from the government documents, mortgages, bank documents and forms everybody fills out for social media sites, and to register all sorts of purchases, warranties, and so forth.  They explain that their aim is to aggregate all these privately held, but public documents, which have difficult and expensive to access.  It makes it sound so public-spirited and happy -- partly because of the up-beat music.

But there is a GOOD side to how difficult and expensive it has been to gather all that information about people.  It guards privacy.  Now, with, for a low annual or monthly membership fee, you can search as many people as you care to.  Or you can pay a single fee, or a fee to search 2 or 3 individuals.  Your nosy neighbor, in-law, potential employer, child's friend's parent, etc., can search all your "public records."  Background checks....  yes, but who is allowed to do them?!

The website makes a lot of statements that require users to "promise" that they will not mis-use the information they acquire through BeenVerified.  And it's very interesting to contemplate what sort of mess you will have to unravel if the records turn out to have incorrect information.  The agreement you "sign" in the terms and conditions holds BeenVerified harmless.  That clause probably would be interpreted differently in different states.  In Massachusetts, I do not think it would stand up if you suffered a lot of harm due to negligence on the website's part, for instance, in gathering information and linking it to your name. 

Fortunately, you CAN opt out of BeenVerified.  Here is a link.  I was going to actually test BeenVerified by buying a search on my own name, but then I got too paranoid to even give them that much information about myself and to give them my credit card. They do not accept PayPal -- only credit card payments!  So, opt out! 

Librarians may know lots of other spooky ways that gather information on people. There are for-profit commercial databases that are quite high-end.  But there are other, free websites that also are pretty scary.  I used to just have my students in my Advanced Legal Research class Google their own names.  But as the commercial value of this information was recognized, it mostly went behind pay walls of one sort or another.  It was a very sobering class when I did this.  We hand out so much personal information over the course of our lives.  Some of it, we have no choice -- the government requires it of us in order to get our driver's license, or other important documents.  The banks will not lend money without information that makes them feel secure.  But it is very unnerving that it's so accessible now in the wired world, and it angers me that this cheerful little company is selling it.

Sorry.  It's not a public service.  Tip of the  OOTJ hat to Alexa!

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