Gov. Busts Identity Theft Ring That Targeted Forbes 400 Richest - InformationWeek
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Gov. Busts Identity Theft Ring That Targeted Forbes 400 Richest

CMP Information Week
InformationWeek Daily - Monday, Aug 20, 2007

Editor's Note

Want The Dirt On Somebody? Two Sites Will Help

The song of the day appears to be, "People, people who need people..." There are a number of new sites popping up that focus on aggregating Web information about people. Want to find out what an old friend is doing these days? Curious about what's being said about you? Two of the latest services, Spock and pipl, are now making that easier. However, they approach the process very differently.

Spock, which has picked up a bit of publicity lately, is a child of the social networking age. It aggregates information pulled from a variety of sources -- Wikipedia, Web sites blogs -- about the person named. If there are images available, it displays a representative sample. And if there are other people associated with the person, it will name those as well -- for example, if you do a search on John Lennon, related people include Yoko Ono, Julian Lennon, Sean Lennon, and Mark David Chapman.

But wait, there's more -- you can vote on how accurate the information is, associate various tags with the person, and vote on how accurate each tag is. You don't like your ex-boss? Find her name, add the tag "dictatorial cheapskate," and invite all your friends to vote on it. If your boss doesn't like it, she can get a bunch of friends to vote against it -- and to tag your name with "lazy idiot."

So it may be a good idea to check Spock out to see what other people are finding out about you. However, if you want addresses, phone numbers, descriptions, biographies, and a long list of the Web pages where your name can be found, pipl is the place to go.

According to the Web site, the search engine goes into the "deep web," which it defines as "a vast repository of underlying content, such as documents in online databases that general-purpose web crawlers cannot reach. "

What does it find? It finds personal information such as addresses (both current and past), phone numbers, and the names of close relatives (the more popular your name, the more entries are found, so if you're named John Smith, there'll be more info to sift through). It finds biographical "Quick Facts" (from what I could tell, these are based on sentences beginning "Jane Smith is...."). If your work has been cited by other publications, pipl finds those. It lists any Web sites and news articles that it finds with your name in it. And if you think you haven't found enough data, pipl suggests alternates to search on (such as "Jack" instead of "John").

In other words, while Spock helps you guard your reputation, pipl helps you find out some of the down-and-dirty facts about you that are out there in the Web. I'm not sure which is scarier.

What do you think. Are people-finding sites likeSpock and pipl, useful tools, or scary invasions of privacy? Let us know.

Barbara Krasnoff

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