Social networks? Meh, privacy shmivacy

Finally got internet in my little flat yesterday… so hopefully after this week of orientation, more posts will be flowing.

Getting back to my feeds though (thank god for internet – I can’t read Finnish so there’s not a lot of choice in terms of printed news). Started reading the wikinomics blog and came across some scary stuff in one post about a new company called Rapleaf.

There’s a great article in the NY Times today (which I think is originally from C-Net) about the rise of a little company called Rapleaf. With Facebook backer and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel behind them, Rapleaf has search technology that enables them, given only a mere email address, to scour social networking and other sites to create a composite of the person which could include everything from physical address to political affiliation to what applications the person has downloaded.

Thankfully, or so it seems, they don’t share the email addresses they have with anyone, or any companies. But what they do do is sell this information to anyone/ any company that comes to them with an email address.

In other words, if you sign up for an email newsletter the company that runs the site can quickly, and easily, learn almost everything about you that is available on the web… which in the age of social networking is quite a bit. It’s hard to see this not morphing into a scandal and/or mess someday…

Here’s a little bit from the Times article:

The privately held start-up, whose investors include Facebook-backer and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, runs two consumer Web sites: Rapleaf.com, a people search engine that lets you retrieve the name, age and social-network affiliations of anyone, as long as you have his or her e-mail address… By collecting these e-mail addresses, Rapleaf has already amassed a database of 50 million profiles, which might include a person’s age, birth date, physical address, alma mater, friends, favorite books and music, political affiliations, as well as how long that person has been online, which social networks he frequents, and what applications he’s downloaded.

Scary no? I know that’s what marketers are supposed to do (I’ve even been on that side!) but at the same time, as a user, don’t you want to think that they at least have to try really hard to dig that deep? ZoomInfo is one company doing that (compiling your internet presence) but it only scours the net on more reputable business sites. Rapleaf on the other hand, is searching the private, more personal social networks – a little bit different I’d say. One site is made to help business people do background checks or help sales people define the org charts (perhaps that’s painting too rosy of a picture) while the other one finds a lot more private information (i.e. meant for friends) of a person and sells it to anyone. Does this mean that even though you have limited settings on your facebook, Rapleaf can find you?

Another thing, who exactly are they selling this information to? We’re in a whole different ballgame when we take info from networks that consist of many young grade schoolers. Creepy.

The guys at Rapleaf claim that they’re “the only email-based reputation system”. In some respect I see where they’re coming from…but spammers etc. aren’t necessarily going to put those addresses on social networks.

However, just tried my “me@janeporter.ca”. Nothing on me pops up – but there’s this message :Hey, we haven’t seen this email before. We’ll have more information for you very soon. Either come back in an hour or click email and we’ll email you when the results are ready.

Still think it’s creepy and made for creepy marketers.

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6 thoughts on “Social networks? Meh, privacy shmivacy

  1. Jay Godse says:

    Interesting…I smell a juicy privacy tort lawsuit. If Rapleaf just trolls the ‘net for information that is truly public and organizing it by email, it is no better than Google/Yahoo/Microsoft at the search game. If, however, they use membership in social networks to compile the information, then they may be violating terms and conditions of membership. Even if they aren’t violating the specific terms and condition, if they willingly commit a “wrong” against somebody with respect to privacy, they could be fair game for a privacy tort lawsuit.

    However, since they don’t have any money, the top 3 richest social networks from which they harvest their information will get nailed instead. Can you spell MySpace, LinkedIn, and Flickr?

  2. Johnny says:

    hi jane. good stuff. welcome back.

  3. […] 5th, 2007 · No Comments Yesterday, I read about RapLeaf over on Jane Porters Blog. Not all that impressed i decided to see if my name was included…. Being famous (ahem) it of […]

  4. James T says:

    I completely agree that it’s borderline TOA violation but people themselves are just as much at fault for putting everything out there. Just about every networking site nowadays requires you to register – often with a mass of personal information (**Read the disclaimers on their privacy info!!**) which is then sold (or given) to marketing companies in many instances. With downloading software, online purchases with your credit card, etc. – people need to be more aware of what information they are freely giving away. It is also hugely concerning to see people putting pictures of their children on places like facebook, myspace, etc. Perhaps that’s just me being me, but it seems like a precursor to how kids end up missing.

    Just my two cents.
    Good luck in Finland.
    And yes, that picture does look like Thunder Bay!

  5. mattroberts says:

    They took down my info and have changed their policies after my blog posting… your info is now up there 😛

  6. […] on the last posts about social network privacy: RapLeaf has changed their opt-out […]

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