Caution: This article contains personal opinions.
A newsletter reader posted a comment at the end of my recent article about PeopleSmart.com. I feel so strongly about this reader's concerns and about my reply that I decided to repeat both in this separate article that you are reading now.As a reminder, PeopleSmart.com is an online service that "mines public records as well as social networking profiles in order to build an online directory of people. An online phonebook that compiles information from across the Web, including cellphone numbers, e-mail addresses and social networking profiles." As I wrote in the earlier article, this "is bound to raise privacy red flags."
You can read the original article at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2010/09/peoplesmartcom-the-ultimate-online-phonebook.html
Craig Kilby wrote a comment that I think should be required reading for everyone who uses online services:
If I read this correctly, this thing mines all sorts of personal data taken from my computer and Facebook sites, among other sources. I don't feel at all comfortable with this, and I am not sure I am comfortable with your promotion of it. Can you please elaborate?My response:
Exactly. You SHOULD be uncomfortable.
I believe that online privacy is a huge problem today. However, I don't think the problem is with Peoplesmart. They are only doing the same thing that dozens of other web sites are doing: collecting your personal information that YOU supply so that they may resell it to advertisers, spammers, or anyone else willing to pay the price.
In my mind, the real culprits here are Facebook and all the other social networking sites that encourage you to place your personal information in plain view. Or perhaps the REAL culprits are the people who are gullible enough to post personal information on those sites.
"We have met the enemy and he is us." -- Pogo
There is another old phrase that pops to mind: "Don't shoot the messenger." Peoplesmart and the other services that gather your personal information are messengers. They are not the problem. They only deliver the information. Even if Peoplesmart went out of business tomorrow, there are dozens of other online services doing the same thing.
The real problem lies with the SOURCES of personal information, in my opinion.
For anyone with concerns about privacy or security, using Facebook is high risk. Hundreds of other web sites and online services gather personal information from Facebook and millions of people are reading information on Facebook. Some of those millions are your friends but many of the other millions are not.
Every word you post on Facebook and similar social networks WILL be read by identity thieves, scam artists, burglars, pedophiles, and dozens of companies that wish to resell your personal information.
Posting information on Facebook is similar to posting the same information on a sign on your front lawn.
There only two possible solutions, in my mind:1. Don't use Facebook at allI use solution #2 above. I do post a little bit of information on Facebook, mostly to publicize this newsletter. But I never post information there that I wouldn't give to spammers, rip-off artists, burglars, identity thieves, pedophiles, and others. After all, I know they are ALREADY reading everything you and I post there.or2. Use Facebook but be very, very cautious about any information you post there. Never post anything on any online site that you wouldn't give to spammers, rip-off artists, burglars, identity thieves, pedophiles, and others. In fact, when you do post information on Facebook, you ARE giving that information to spammers, rip-off artists, burglars, identity thieves, pedophiles, and others.
Every bit of information I post to Facebook is also available elsewhere on the Web and always is information that I willingly give away to everyone, such as new articles I post in this newsletter. I never, ever post personal information or any information about my political beliefs or my religious beliefs or anything else that I consider to be personal.
I would suggest everyone should stop to think before posting any information to Facebook or to any other online site. My suggestion: Never, ever place personal information online, not on Facebook and not anyplace else.
- Dick Eastman