Data snatchers! The booming market for your online identity

A huge, mostly hidden industry is raking in billions collecting, analyzing, sharing information you put on the Web. Should you be worried?

By Mark Sullivan, PC World |  Security, big data, Facebook

Intelius Inc., which owns Intelius.com and other "people search" sites, has begun augmenting its core public records data product by adding social network data to its user profiles. "It's an area we're moving in now," says Jim Adler, chief privacy officer and general manager of data systems at Intelius.

He adds, "Our job is to pull data together from whatever sources are available. If it's publicly available, we'll use it."

Today Intelius is capturing only the most basic information from Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks--names, ages, and where a person has lived. But many aggregators are just beginning to explore the uses of social networking data.

Data Combination Could Pose New Privacy Threats

What may be a dark side to this mashup of public records and social networking data is this: Public records sites such as Intelius, Spokeo, and PeopleFinders.com distribute the kind of data that landlords, insurers, employers, or creditors could easily use to screen applicants--but the sites insist that their content is not intended for such uses.

"The use of our service to screen potential employees, tenants, or for any other purpose that's restricted by the Fair Credit Reporting Act is in violation of our Terms & Conditions," Intelius's Adler wrote in an email to PCWorld.

But many people suspect that personal data offered at public records sites is being used for exactly such purposes. As FTC Commissioner Julie Brill has commented: "I have long been concerned about data that [is] used in place of traditional credit reports to make predictions that become a part of the basis for making determinations regarding a consumer's credit [and] his or her ability to secure housing, gainful employment, or various types of insurance."

And in truth, the public records sites would have no way of knowing if this happened--and may not want to know.

Add social networking info, and an employer or landlord could get a more nuanced (but potentially misleading) picture of a person. Here, data from two parts of a person's life is being accessed--public records, formal and open, and social networking data, informal and intended for "friends." An applicant for a job, a housing rental, or insurance would probably have no inkling of his or her social network data being accessed.

Combining Data for Political Targeting

High-tech targeting isn't just for selling products anymore. It's now being used to sell candidates and ideas.


Originally published on PC World |  Click here to read the original story.
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