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Monday, September 10, 2007

Social Network Scrapers Make You Visible

Private I, Robot Is On Your Case

Stefanie Olsen of CNet wrote two articles (At Rapleaf, Your Personals are Public and People Search Engine Rapleaf Revises Privacy Policy) that shed light on an obscure and disturbing aspect of the new phenomenon of "reputation sites". Ms. Olsen introduced us to Rapleaf and UpScoop, two companies who, if you give them an email address, will provide a "report". UpScoop actually asks you to dump your whole contact list, so they can create a field of information about the connections and characteristics of your whole social circle.

The only problem is that, along with providing that information to you, they also keep it for themselves, so that when someone else comes along and asks about that same email address, the information is ready to hand over.

Are they violating privacy? Perhaps not. Remember, they're using all the public information available on the Internet to crawl through and assemble a picture. Kind of like an online private investigator trolling through your Internet litter.

And suddenly, you're much more visible.

I foolishly provided an email address of mine to Rapleaf. They promptly responded, "We don't know anything about this person...", and then, ominously, "...but we will soon!" I'm sure they meant it to sound helpful and cheery, but I found it disturbing.

Sure enough, several days later they had sent me an email, inviting me to "profile" myself. And not only that, they had cross-correlated my first email to a second email of mine, and sent me a profile invitation there, too.

Be careful. The Internet is a public place. And what you put out there is now being scoured by an army of well-trained digital "private dicks". And, according to Olsen, they'll share their findings with anyone who knows your email address, for the right price.

Does anybody else find this wrinkle to be a dark development?


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