July 27, 2011, 10:00 AM — There was an old Andy Griffith episode involving a stranger who arrived in Mayberry and knew so much about the townspeople and the goings-on of the town that it was as if he’d lived there for years. Everyone was mystified, but it turned out that the stranger was getting his information from the local paper, which he’d been receiving in the mail.
I was reminded of that TV episode when I saw this new WhitePages app called WhitePages Neighbors. It also reminded me of Gladys Kravitz, the nosy neighbor on Bewitched, and the black comedy of the John Belushi/Dan Aykroyd movie Neighbors.
WhitePages is a public-records search company. It makes money by giving away a little bit of information on people for free, and then charging for a deeper look into public documents for things like criminal records, liens, and email addresses. But WhitePages Neighbors adds an aerial view to this, so that a user can see all of the houses in the neighborhood, along with the names, mailing addresses and phone numbers of everybody who lives inside those houses.
The app sugar-coats the information-selling aspect by offering a way to send invites to all your neighbors for a "block party." The site also offers people a chance to "claim" and correct their WhitePages listing--yay! Thanks, WhitePages, for the opportunity to correct your false information and provide you with more of my accurate personal information to distribute.
I’m not accusing WhitePages of providing a hyperlocal tool for smartphone-carrying burglars or stalkers. But WhitePages is already a very nosy and nearly privacy-infringing service, and the addition of the aerial neighborhood views presented on a mobile device tips the service over the line into Creepyville, population 308 million.
The nice people who made the Breakup Notifier app figure that you probably have about 20 or so Facebook friends that you’d like to hook up with. They know that you often while away the hours by making the rounds to all of their profiles, checking out new pictures posted, looking for little signs, reading between the lines for some indication that the “In a Relationship” status may be on the verge of changing to “Single.”