If you were watching or reading the news this weekend, you probably heard about that creepy web site that exposed everyone’s personal information. By entering just a name and a state, your address history, spouse, children and other relations were neatly listed for the WHOLE WORLD to see.
What’s worse, this site lured people to it by posing as a family tree research tool. Everyone was invited to search public data for free. You could even create an account to claim your listing, save information and who knows else what. And I wasn’t going to sign up to find out.
Sites that collect public information on people have been around as long as the internet. Check out Intellius, Zaba or search for “people finders” and you’ll discover the same information this family tree site has – and sometimes more. But who needs those sites when a search on Google or Bing reveals even all that, your social sites, work profile pages and every time you’ve ever been mentioned in the news.
So what’s so evil about a “people finder” site masquerading as an ancestry research source? If you ask me, it’s genius. Researching one’s roots is one of the most popular hobbies in the world with thousands of people searching on the web each day. While few people who land on this site might actually create an account, the money maker for these types of sites is display ads. And thanks to all the fuss, millions of people went to the site. That means millions of ads were displayed netting the site owner some serious cash.
Unfortunately, as the ever-helpful media urged you to opt out, it forgot to tell you something. Just visiting the site meant you became the proud owner of a tracking cookie – or a “device” profile. As you found and selected the records you wanted to remove, all that personally identifying information could have been matched with the cookie or profile. That means they may know who you are and can not only “follow” you around the web but sell that information to others.
If you fell for it, don’t worry. There’s probably a load of tracking info on your computer already. To get the many free services, content and personalization features the web offers, that’s the price you pay. And it’s nearly impossible – not to mention time consuming and inconvenient – to rid your devices and prevent privacy “invasions.”
So back to the evil family tree site. I wouldn’t put it past the site owner to have been the one who alerted the media in the first place. Besides all that ad revenue, they gained links from credible media sites and will likely place at the top of the search results for family tree searches. I’d call that genius.