Information Aggregator Websites: Truth, Trust, and Privacy

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The rise of information aggregator websites allows consumers access to handy information without leaving their living room.

These sites provide information harvested from publicly available databases. Simply type in the information about an individual and hit the search button. In return comes the data from these public records all in one simple package.

They usually charge a fee for their troubles, of course, which is why this type of business is growing as companies bank on our need to know everything about everybody.

Many of these sites flash sensationalized testimonials targeted at consumers, hoping to invoke the fear that someone they trust is, in fact, not trustworthy. Of course, it is important to know everything you can about someone you trust to care for your children or work for your business. Yet issues often arise from using these sites that can cause more harm than good.

Is This Stuff True…What If It’s Wrong?

When you are the one searching for information it elicits one reaction, but what about when YOU are the one that others are searching for information about? The reaction is generally entirely different from that perspective.

Before basing important decisions (such as whom to date or hire as a babysitter) on the information obtained on these simple aggregator sites, ask yourself some questions.

First, one must consider where this information is coming from. All of the information from these sites comes from online sources and public record. Anyone who spends enough time could pull this information together on their own. However, a human is generally better equipped to decipher between logical information pairing or a fluke, coincidence or outright error. For instance, someone from your hometown with the same first name, last name, and date of birth could be a convicted criminal. If an information aggregator used only this information to produce results it may wrongly conclude that you are a criminal.

Poof! Just like that, the firm you were interviewing with pulls you out of the candidate pile or the person you had been dating deletes your number from their cell phone and you never hear from them again.

Even more frightening are the prospects for identity theft victims, particularly those victims of criminal identity theft. This criminal record is actually tied to their social security number. Even after these victims have carried out every action possible with law enforcement, judges and courts, this site may have pulled this information and not corrected it, or even knew to correct it. Therefore a very specific search, could still pull up inaccurate information.

What About Privacy?

With a terrifyingly small amount of information, anyone can find your home address, phone number, place of employment, and family members. Can you even imagine what this would mean in the hands of a stalker? Even more frightening is that you can find all of that without paying a fee or entering any personal information to register.

Information aggregators are just another example of the reasons that we must continue to debate privacy versus safety/security.

The question must be asked: “Just because you can, does it mean you should?” These sites will continue as long as we pay for their services.

Our advice is to protect your own privacy by not frequenting these sites and if you just can’t resist, and you MUST know what they pull up about your next romantic candidate, take this information with a grain of salt. If something concerning is pulled up, follow up with a more robust background check; don’t let a simple search make these meaty decisions for you.

You are always better off when you let the (human) professionals undertake the test of judging someone worthy of trust with your children or your finances and using multiple, trustworthy sources for information gathering.

 

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Nikki Junker

Nikki Junker is Social Media Coordinator and Victim Advisor at The Identity Theft Resource Center. She specializes in Identity Theft on social networks and smartphones. She enjoys working one on one with victims of identity theft as well as researching and writing about preventative measures for consumers.