It’s not just Big Brother – it’s big business

This morning I wrote about how Big Brother is getting more intrusive than ever, referring to organs of the state and their deliberate flouting of our constitutional rights.

Some recent e-mails have pointed out that this invasion of our privacy is going on among private companies, too.  There are companies out there which aggregate information about you from many sources, and will sell it to anyone with the money to pay their fees.  We all know about credit bureaux, of course, but there are some organizations that go even further.  Two that were mentioned in the e-mails are Instant Checkmate and Spokeo.  The former says of itself:

Our goal is to provide you with the most useful, detailed and important information on just about anyone. We’re continually listening to your feedback and working tirelessly each day to improve our data, technology, and website and services in general.

Whether researching arrest Records, phone numbers, addresses, demographic data, census data, or a wide variety of other information, we help thousands of Americans find what they’re looking for each and every day.

I haven’t bothered to pay their fees to find out how much they know about me . . . but it’s disturbing to me that such services are offered at all.  I have no way of knowing how much they know about me, or whether their information is correct, or why someone would want to pay them to obtain that information about me.

Do such businesses make it easier to steal others’ identities?  I’m willing to bet they do . . . and I’d love to know how many identity thieves subscribe to such services.  Whoever said “Crime doesn’t pay” clearly didn’t have companies like that in mind!



  1. Employers routinely use these reports to screen applicants. If there is something derogatory in your report, be it accurate or otherwise, you'll never know it. There is no mechanism to allow an individual to do basic checks on what is being said about them, as you point out.

  2. I've used one of the "background" services exactly once, several years ago when my wife was being scammed be a fellow player in an internet game. The information they had available then was nothing compared to what I can find on my own through open-source internet searches. I recently tracked down an old Army buddy with nothing more than his name and state of residence, took me a while but I found him. He'd "gone dark" and didn't even own a computer, so it became a challenge.
    I do miss the reverse phone look-up service that used to be free through the phone companies. That came in helpful in tracking some threatening phone calls when my son was a teenager.
    Identity theft is getting easier, but I worry more about virtual slander and character assassination in today's world.

  3. The Magnuson-Moss Act was in response to the abuses of credit reporting agencies. Perhaps it can be updated so that any firm offering this service must provide a free report of personal information to anyone who requests their information. You can challenge anything in a credit report. The agencies must verify the information or remove it within thirty days.

    Your information is also collected by the Medical Information Bureau. There is a mechanism for you to see and correct the information. As to how Obamacare will change this, I don't know, but doubt it will be in favor of the individual.

  4. Agree with both Chaplain Tim and WSF. It's WAY to easy for negative info/personal info to get out and there is NO way for you to know or counter it…

  5. Couple of thoughts,

    RE: obamacare changing MIB… used to be there were only 2 agencies that could *require* you to provide SSN, the IRS and Social Security itself. Doctors liked to get it to aid in debt collection, and because the MIB used it. I have always declined to provide it. When my new insurance (private) started in December, I got a letter from them demanding my SSN. I can refuse to provide it, but then they will cancel the policy. So *something* must have been changed, probably when the IRS got involved in enforcing health coverage.

    Re: private data companies… as a business owner, about 8 years ago I got a solicitation from one of the companies that aggregates data, to "help me identify new customers." As part of their demo, you could put in a number of screening factors and see how many names you would get (you had to pay to see the names.) Using my zipcode, and specific demographic info, I got 1 result, and he lived on my block, IE *me.* So ten years ago, I could easily get info on me, I'm only going to assume the info available has exploded exponentially. N.B. just to be clear, the service they were offering was to identify people by a lot of descriptors like "hobbies" and things that describe "lifestyle." not just a certain ethnicity or income level.

    AFAIK there is nothing but budget restraints keeping an investigative agency from using one of these services to profile you…


  6. Addendum on Credit Reports. In the many years of retailing automobiles, I saw literally thousands of credit reports. Talking to the consumers, the majority were surprised and upset about the information. We had printed up instructions for them to get the reports correctly. Sadly, few followed through.

    Often, we would see clear evidence of identity theft and fraud. The social security number presented by a thirty something man belonged to a deceased seventy year old woman. We always reported these to law enforcement. Nothing every came of it other than having "due diligence" evidence in our files should someone sue us.

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