Tuesday, June 03, 2008

To protect your privacy

"I am a corrections officer and I want all my information off the Internet ... especially my address. Can you help me?"

These messages came from customers of MyPrivacy, a subscription service Fertik launched last fall to help people pull their details out of the hands of companies that package personal data and sell it on the Web. For $5 a month he offers his subscribers a list of sites where their identifying details are hung out for all to see, and when possible, gives them the option to have them erased.

The problem: MyPrivacy still doesn't work. Fertik's ambitious program has been stonewalled by many of the data businesses it's sought to deal with and has hardly put a dent in the piles of personal information about his customers that are available on the Web. As of now the project has only shown how hard it is to keep from strangers data as basic as a phone number or an address.

The Web is populated by people-focused search engines like Intelius, Peoplefinders or US Search that peddle personal data: the value of your house, criminal records, salary information and employment history.

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