Science and Tech


'People Search Sites' Make Money Selling Access To Public Documents

Some worry it could be picking at personal privacy.
Posted at 11:29 AM, Oct 11, 2019

Privacy has become a sweet, old-fashioned notion (to quote the queen of rock 'n roll).  

Just Google yourself.  

Some of the top results are usually "people search sites."  

Just about anything you can think of — and thought nobody else would know — is right there. The details go far beyond your full name, age, address, address history, phone numbers. Sir, madame this is your life. A rundown of marriages, spouses, divorces, names of children, how much you paid for your house — and a criminal record, if you have one. 

How did all of those personal tidbits wind up there? Indirectly, you put many of them there. Social media profiles are goldmines. Sure, you intended to share it with friends, but it didn't stop there, unless you made your account private.

There are other online tidbits comes from sources, like online warranty cards and forum posts ads you've clicked on and surveys you've filled out.  

And think about the trail of public documents you have left behind. Real estate transactions, unsealed lawsuits, birth certificates, death certificates, voter registrations, political campaign contributions. This probably raises another question. 

Why aren't these locked up in a government filing cabinet? The answer circles back to people search sites. There are two types: primary sites and secondary sites. Primary sites usually get information directly from public record sources, often from people going to courthouses to gather records. Examples include InteliusLexisNexisPeopleFinders

Secondary sites gather data electronically from primary sites, social networks and other online sources. Examples include SpokeoPiplRadaris. How do the sites make money? They are data brokers and sell the data they gather to clients and subscribers. Arrangements vary from a one-time fee for a specific search to monthly subscriptions. So what can you do about your data showing up on people search sites? As noted earlier, you can make your social media accounts private. But that won’t do anything about data they already hoovered up. Getting data scrubbed from individual people search sites takes time. Each one has a different procedure, usually including proof of identity. And even after you have submitted a request, it can be days or weeks before it happens if ever.