There's some hand-wringing going on over the recent announcement that Intelius, an online background check service has purchased Spock, a people search engine, for an undisclosed amount. Some say there's a shady vibe that emanates from Intelius that may not bode well for Spock, but the big concern seems to be that this marriage signals a slippery slide toward an invasion of privacy.
Blogger Ajit Jaokar outlines why, although Spock's purchase was a brilliant move by Intelius, it still gives some people the creeps. Spock gathers data on individuals by culling data from public Web sites like Facebook, MySpace, and personal blogs, then assembles a profile based on the information discovered online. Spock hedges its bets that no one can resist checking and tweaking their own profile, so it's begun charging for the privilege. In effect, Spock's business model was to build a database and have people pay them to populate it.
Spock's owners appear to have made a second profit on the data by selling it to a company that does background checks on individuals but, while the arrangement is a bit opportunistic, Spock really hasn't done anything wrong. No one strong-armed visitors into updating their personal data, and there is a free (albeit limited) option for anyone who doesn't want to fork over cash. That said, it is weird to think that someone may be quietly checking up on me by buying information about me from Intelius that I unwittingly supplied by registering with Spock. It's ironic, but not an invasion of my privacy especially since I coughed up most of the data myself.
I think the main reason people are (rightly) up in arms over the sale of Spock is because of the larger implications of what Web 2.0 services can do with your registration information. Once you provide data about yourself to a Web-based service or company, you may be relinquishing your control over it for good. Even the most enticing privacy policies may vanish into the ether when one online business gobbles up another. As more Web sites request -- or are driven by -- personal user data, we're likely to see privacy concerns crop up again and again.
The simplest answer is one we hear often, but bears repeating. Never, ever put anything online about yourself that you're not prepared to see splashed across the Internet. As long as you heed that golden rule, there's no reason to worry too much about company acquisitions leading to an invasion of your privacy. If you want to get philosophical about it, remember that personal information you provide yourself is a lot easier to control than information you don't.
Do online privacy concerns keep you up at night? Talk to me in the comments.
This story, "Sale of Spock Spooks Privacy Advocates" was originally published by Computerworld.