Personal Search Site Adds Blogs

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2005-08-26

Personal Search Site Adds Blogs, a search engine that specializes in disseminating free personal information, is poised to append a blogging feature to search results, which would enable unsubstantiated gossip to be appended to peoples personal information.

ZabaSearch, of Zaba Inc., on Thursday will make available unmoderated Weblogs, also known as ZabaBlogs. The blogs will be accessible in links placed directly under the name of each search subject.

An article in quoted a company spokesperson as saying that the blogs would be similar to blogs found elsewhere on the Web—in other words, an unmoderated free-for-all.

"Blogs: You either love them or you loathe them," said Michelle Jordan, a spokesperson quoted in the article.

Other goodies in store include paid listings on search results for individuals, a feature that will enable the motivated to figure more prominently in search results.

ZabaSearch also at one point provided links to satellite maps of peoples homes. That feature, Jordan said, may come back, it being a "work in progress."

Why is Hotbar in hot water with an online privacy group? Click here to read more.

Launched in February, the people-search startup trawls through publicly available information, including phone listings, court records, real property records and subscriptions. It returns results that include current and former addresses, some going back as far as 20 years, sometimes along with phone numbers.

ZabaSearch also provides links to a smorgasbord of additional free search results on the searched name, including results from Mamma, Yahoo, HighBeam, Lycos, DogPile, A9 and AltaVista, as well as image search results.

The youthful company already has a listing of "unsatisfactory" with the Better Business Bureau, based on its failure to respond to complaints. The BBB also said that ZabaSearch President Robert Zakari is also the president of another company at the same address, PeopleData Inc., which has a similar unsatisfactory rating due to a "pattern of complaints."

ZabaSearch has lost no time in exasperating privacy rights advocates and consumers, and the new blogging capability only makes it worse.

"How awful," said Beth Gibbons, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego. "It basically will bring out the very worst in people. It will be used for unsubstantiated gossip, and it will be used for revenge. I think its highly irresponsible to make this search available."

It might be highly irresponsible, but its also legal, as ZabaSearch takes pains to point out on its site; it provides a link to an article on its own legality by Anita Ramasastry, an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle and a Director of the Shidler Center for Law, Commerce & Technology.

Basically, according to Ramasastry, there is nothing illegal about providing access to publicly available documents, and, according to the ZabaSearch site, "its data come from publicly available government records and commercial sources," she wrote.

Next Page: The difficulty of opting out of ZabaSearch.

The Difficulty of Opting

out of ZabaSearch">

What seems to particularly exasperate consumers is the difficulty entailed in opting out of ZabaSearch. No phone numbers are available on the site. A phone number listed in Whois connects to an automated customer service answering service.

A difficult-to-find spot on the Web site instructs users to send e-mail in order to receive directions on how to opt out.

The instructions for opting out request a payload of personal information, including e-mail address, full name with middle initial, address of the record, phone number, and year of birth, all to be jotted down, signed and snail-mailed.

And even these convoluted instructions dont ensure success in opting out.

"I … tried to opt out of the site. I e-mailed multiple remove requests, and an autoresponder informed me that Id have to submit my name and other personal data," said a Wired reporter in an interview with the sites management team.

"I did, but my records were never removed. I was promised that someone would respond personally, and I contacted the site three times as specified in the e-mail with all of the info requested. That felt pretty unresponsive. The datas still there, as it was when I first contacted you."

ZabaSearch had not returned e-mail and phone calls by the time this article was posted.

A similar lack of response was stamped out years ago by the Federal Trade Commission, when it fined credit bureaus for failing to provide human contacts when individuals attempted to inquire about their credit reports.

No such act regulates online information brokers at this time, Gibbons said, although privacy advocates such as the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse are fighting to change that.

"People like myself have called for this industry to be regulated, with steps similar to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, with a set of fair information principles," she said. "And one principle is accountability, and obviously this company is one thats not accountable. … Its just not in their best interest to [be easy to contact]," she said.

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