Date Check, a new mobile application by Intelius, that purports to allow daters to learn about the background of potential partners instantly, is perhaps the most egregious infringement on privacy since Google launched their Street View application. (Learn how to remove your home from Street View)
Their press materials claim “Today’s dating scene is tough to navigate, which is why Intelius developed Date Check, a free mobile app that deciphers fact from fiction in the palm of your hand. Simply enter a name, phone number or email address and instantly get accurate and comprehensive results. With features like Sleaze Detector, Compatibility, Net Worth, Interests and Living Situation you can be in the know on the go.”
While the picture painted in Intelius’ press release is rosy, the real opportunities this invasive functionality represents are far more sinister. No one should be so naïve to think this application will only be used by daters wanting to be safe. The service is best suited for exploitation – harassment, ID theft, robberies, extortion, stalking, and other forms of abuse. The service also comes with the real risk of mixing identities, and smearing the good names of upright citizens.
You don’t have to have skeletons in the closet to take offense at the public exposure of such information as who lives with you, the names and ages of relatives, your income, or the number of rooms in your home.
The table below lists the information DateCheck returns “instantly” when someone enters a name (or cell phone number:
Whats really at stake here are four fundamental questions for which answers are past due:
- Should companies be able to sell your personal information without explicit permission?
- What information about private citizens should the government expose publicly vs. protect?
- What fundamental rights should we have over our own privacy?
- How much information do we have the right to know about others?
Until there is public debate and consensus on these questions, your privacy will continue to be trampled by services like Date Check. Unless you speak up, you risk two things: 1) that the needed conversations don’t take place and your privacy becomes a quaint thing of the past, or at a minimum you will have no voice in the outcome.
Intelius attempts to deflect objections to its monetization of your privacy (though the service is free to use that doesn’t mean they aren’t making money) by pointing out that they only ‘search publicly available information’. This is equivalent to a kid caught bullying a teacher by placing their phone number and address everywhere using the defense of ‘I found her info in the phone book’. It doesn’t make the action appropriate or mitigate culpability.
The government is guilty of exposing your personal information – government records are a primary source of information for Intelius. In spite of millions of dollars spent in public service messages urging consumers to protect their private information, government records are one of your biggest risk factors. I consistently find Social Security Numbers, Loan documents, Power of Attorney documents, as well as the more standard information found on birth, marriage, divorce & death certificates and property records on government sites.
Laws relating to public access of information are in dire need of updating to reflect the impact of new technologies.
We stand at the crossroads of a fundamental communication and information shift and we must decide on the rules and roles of this new environment or they will be decided for us.
I believe privacy matters. I believe that your right to information about me is not as valid as my right to keep my information private. I believe that the risk of abuse to individuals is heightened when criminals and abusers can stalk your every move, gain the information needed to steal identities, locate your family members, and see your financial assets.