The Internet makes private life public

Last month, a Ft. Myers man reunited with his five children after they found each on www.mylife.com. However, sites like the one used for the reunion also buy and sell people’s personal information.

Sites such as www.MyLife.com and www.spokeo.com search databases and social networking sites for people’s personal information and compile them for buyers.

Michael Richmond, professor of law in the Shepard Broad Law Center said this practice is not illegal.

“Anything that’s public information is [fair] game,” he said. “And as long as you have put it on the net, it is public.”

When accessing these sites, users have access to a person’s information including their full name, address, birth year, names of family members and past living locations. Some people’s profile includes their picture as well as a picture of their house.

Dan Goldring, senior sports and recreation management major, said he did not like the idea of people accessing his information so easily.

“If I’m looking for a job maybe it’s OK they look me up but, other than that, there’s too many weird people out there and I don’t want them stalking me,” he said.

But Richmond said that these sites are not required to verify the information they provide users. So, if a prospective employer looks some-one up, they might have incorrect information.

Ana Cuccurullo, freshman communication studies major, visited the Web site and thought it was “horrible.” But, she said, there could be a positive aspect to it.

“If you’re from the government and have to find someone to protect people, that’s fine,” she said.

Richard D. Manning, Ph.D., visiting professor in the Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences, said these sites not only obtain their data from the information people post online but also from people’s friends.

“A colleague of mine, from a long time ago, released my name and affiliation,” he said. “So you have to be careful of what your friends are saying, too.”

Some of these Web sites, such as www.spokeo.com, allow you to remove a listing by entering the URL of the person’s profile on their privacy page. However, the removal process depends on the Web site.

The sites advertise themselves as a service to buyers, but Manning said he did not see anything positive that could come from these sites.

“If you want to find another friend, there are other ways of doing that more cheaply,” he said.

He also said that putting information such as your birthday and hometown on Facebook was not recommended since banks’ Web sites often ask for that information to verify users’ identity.

“Be very careful. Your personal information has value to all kinds of people,” he said.

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