Yours truly runs an ego surf regularly just to see what’s on the web that contains or is attached to my name. And while the majority was published with my knowledge and consent, today I found something that was neither. It was pretty coincidental too, considering minutes before I had just read a story regarding job applicants having to hand over the username and passwords of their social networking accounts in order to be considered.
Regardless of where you come down on personal privacy, the fact remains that the Internet has made digging up personal information that much easier for anyone who wants to take a look. And by the way, this includes ID thieves and others with unknown agendas, such as stalkers. It is simpy breathtaking to behold the amount of data that can be culled from running a simple search on one’s name. And I’m not talking about any comments that you may have left in a moment of temporary rantitude while logged into your social networking profile on a page with comments set to public viewing rather than private.
The site in question contained not only a full dossier containing my name and age, but also a listing of every city I have ever lived in, the address, the duration, family members, their ages and their locations, to name just a few bits allegedly pulled from public records. Honestly, I half-expected to see a photo of what I deposited into the toilet this morning after breakfast.
How much easier can purveyors of sensitive data make it for criminals to track you down and otherwise utilize the information they found on the web to perpetrate some kind of scam? Call me paranoid, but if I wanted the world to know this level of personal data, then I would have disclosed it myself. But status quo is that consumer consent is not necessary. Hey, the info is supposedly pulled from the public record, therefore you don’t have a say in what someone else publishes to the web about you because clearly, you wouldn’t have had that info in the public record in the first place, right?
Before the Internet, in order to track down a personal history such as the listing of cities someone has been a resident of, for example, you had to make a trip to the local government office. You also had to interact with a live person and sign various forms which documented your name, thereby, leaving a paper trail. It kept any casual nosy barker honest, for the most part, and, otherwise limited the invasion of privacy to private investigators and law enforcement personnel. But today, anyone with an Internet connection can crawl up your anal opening and inspect what’s there whether you consent or not.
This is primarily due to two factors. (1) Right to privacy laws have not kept pace with technology, and, (2) The system is opt-out by default, instead of opt-in. In an opt-out system, it is assumed that you are OK with YouBetchaWe’reLegit background checker publishing your dossier whether you assent or not. And therein lies the rub. Opt-out doesn’t make life any easier for anyone except the douchebags trying to make a buck on selling your information.
An opt-in system, on the other hand, is simply that. Nothing is published about you -in public record or not- without your specific permission. You must contact the purveyor of information and let them know you want your data published. This is more in line with how it should be in the U.S. As is, only the EU has such a strong consumer protection law, but then again, the elected reps of the various countries comprising the EU aren’t the bought-and-paid for whores owned 100% by Big Biz like the American Congress is.
What You Can Do
Unless and until the U.S. passes strong consumer protection laws at the national level (don’t hold your breath) you can attempt to limit what’s available on the web about you. However, I must caution that this endeavor eventually becomes a game of whack-a-mole. You no sooner notify one asshole that you want your information deleted, and before long, here comes another selling even more. Depending on your level of tenacity, this may or may not be a game changer.
But don’t let the hoop jumping deter you as this is precisely what the information purveyors want. If enough consumers complain and opt-out, sooner or later, something has got to give. You just have to be persistent. And, really, in the final analysis, is it really worth your reputation to throw up your hands in frustration and give up so easily? In my opinion, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy to believe you are beaten without even attempting to push back.
You should also check with the FTC as well as your state’s privacy laws for more information. Please note that some states like Calfornia have stronger consumer protection laws in place while others rely on the business-friendly federal law. California residents click here for the office of privacy protection.
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