Jan 202011
 
 January 20, 2011  Business, Featured News, Laws, Online

January 19, 2016 – Jane Doe wakes up, puts on the coffee, and gets ready for work. Not her work as a paid professional – she had to give up that job to take care of her other work.

Jane sits down at the computer and begins the daily grind of trying to remove her profile from public sites that have aggregated inaccurate information about her. She has no idea where they got the inaccurate information that they are associating with her identity, and so the amount of inaccurate information about her on the web keeps increasing exponentially as new sites crop up that promise site visitors they can find out all kind of details about her.

As she works to delete profiles, she curses Congress for believing that businesses could or would ever successfully self-regulate and that transparency and the ability to opt out was sufficient to protect privacy.

At 5:00 pm, Jane stops working. She knows that there will be many more sites waiting for her tomorrow.

Far-fetched?  Not at all.

Liz Tay reports on itnews that a dating site has unilaterally decided that you will have a dating profile – whether you want one or not and whether it’s accurate it or not – and that there are no privacy issues.

There are none so blind as they who are so greedy that they will not see:

Online dating company Gotham Dating Partners has announced plans to create profiles for non-registered individuals based on publicly available information on social networking sites.

The company operates several dating sites, including: Dons and Divas, Faithful Lover, Marry Me First, Prison Hookup, and Ugly People Date. Incorporated in New York in January 2010 by Aaron Fraser, it is the parent of online footwear startup LeBron Jordan, which came under fire from Nike this month for potential trademark infringement.

According to the company’s marketing vice president Damon Jordan, the dating service had about 6.5 million members in the US and elsewhere, including Australia.

But that figure was set to rise exponentially in the coming weeks.

Jordan said the site would soon host some 340 million profiles after scraping information from social networking sites, e-mail registries, mailing lists, marketing surveys, government census records, real estate listings and business websites to create new dating profiles.

[…]

Jordan did not expect to face any privacy issues by aggregating publicly available information, stating: “If the information is public, there are no privacy issues.”

[…]

Jordan said the company hoped to improve public safety by ensuring members’ profiles were accurate.

“This is actually a protective measure to ensure that the information posted by our members are indeed accurate,” he said. “It must mesh with what is already out there about them.”

The only way for an individual to be excluded from the database would be to log in, submit their information and then delete their profile, he said.

[…]

Some might see what Gotham Dating Partners will do as no different than what other aggregators such as Intelius or Spokeo are doing.

Do we really want to permit these aggregator sites to provide a shop-at-home service for personal information that is inaccurate or embarrassing or could potentially be used against a person?

Most sites that aggregate information have a disclaimer that they are merely aggregating but provide no direct link to each bit of information that they report for an individual.  As one result, the individual has no way of even knowing who to contact as the original source of inaccurate information. And so the problems will mushroom.

Allowing people to delete their profiles or opt out is not sufficient protection.  Most people have no idea how many sites have aggregated information on them.  Opt-out places an undue burden on the individual, who gains nothing from the site.  All opt-out does is to allow the company or web site to make a profit at the expense of individuals.

If Twitter is the Company of the Year for Data Privacy Day 2011, maybe aggregator sites should be the corporate villains of the year.

I realize fellow privacy advocates may say that I’m being harsh and that we need to work with businesses to help them do the right thing.   But if we’re honest, there is evil in this world and this type of corporate greed at the expense of individuals’ privacy merits our strongest condemnation.   It is merits – indeed, requires – a regulatory response from Congress that includes a private cause of action for any individual who has been harmed by such sites.

Data Privacy Day is January 28.  Privacy advocates need to keep educating Congress and the public and keep the  pressure on Congress  to require commercial sites like Intelius, Spokeo, and proposed sites like Gotham Dating Partners  to obtain opt-in consent. Transparency and opt-out are simply not sufficient to protect privacy.

Note: In condemning what some companies do, I want to be clear that I think there are often good people in these companies and that the companies I named are not alone in doing what they do.  I do think that we can strongly detest  a company’s policy or approach to privacy without attacking individuals, and I hope that the companies I’ve named in this blog entry will consider what they might do going forward so that the burden is not on individuals to find them and go through time-consuming and frustrating steps to opt out of something we never opted in to!

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