Friday, February 29, 2008

Data Broker practices might damage reputations

The Erickson Times today (in the March 2003 print edition) has a followup report on p 4 about data brokers, by Michael G. Williams, "Caught in the data broker web: Will Congress protect us from personal information leaks?" I had discussed the previous issue on this blog on Jan. 30/

The story relates a particularly troubling narrative about Intellius. The story tells of finding criminal convictions about individuals with the same name as the person being investigated, and shown on the same page. This practice resembles problems being reported with the Internet, where employers attempt to check on a person's "online reputation" and can easily pull up the wrong person. The data broker industry argues that there is nothing inherently wrong with offering information from the "public domain" to customers (like landlords or employers) as long as it is collected legally.

The Senate considers a bill requiring data brokers to disclose data records to consumers on request, and the House would prohibit the sale of social security numbers.

On Feb. 22, the Washington Post reported that Reed Elsevier (owner of Books in Print) and owner of LexisNexias was attempting to acquire ChoicePoint, story here. A merger could make it easier for Congress to regulate the data broker industry and treat it as very much like the credit reporting industry and even debt collection business.

Update: May 13, 2008

Vuahini Vara has a story in The Wall Street Journal, "New Sites Make It Easier To Spy on Your Friends," p D1, link here. Among the sites discussed are zabasearch, wink, Spock, spokeo, and zillow. A 2005 letter to me by Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA) about such sites is posted here.

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