You Cannot Hide From Public Record Search Engines
By: Mike Banks Valentine © copyright March 9, 2007
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 journal-
ists 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
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
About the Author
Mike Banks Valentine operates http://PrivacyNotes.com/privacy_blog/
Web Privacy Tutorial at: http://privacynotes.com/P
And Performs Ethical Search Engine Optimization
Press Release Optimization & Distribution Online
If you've got news you can rank top for your search phrases
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