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Intersection: Sidewalks & Public Space

Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"


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    Wall Street Journal: Sites Are Accused of Privacy Failings

    The Wall Street Journal reports on the troubles that consumers have with Web sites that collect and publish personal data:

    Getting personal information removed from websites that collect it can feel a lot like playing Whac-a-Mole.

    David Cox, a businessman from Tulsa, Okla., got his name, address and other personal details removed from the online background-check website BeenVerified.com, but his success was temporary. He submitted his first request for removal in April, using a service called “DeleteMe” from Boston privacy start-up Abine Inc., and it was almost immediately honored. But four months later, in August, his information popped up again on the website—forcing him to submit another request. [...]

    Mr. Cox’s experience isn’t unusual in the unregulated world of people-search websites. Reputation.com Inc., which sells a subscription service removing people’s data from such sites, reports that on average about 10% of the records it has removed reappear every day, forcing it to submit new removal requests. [...]

    Lawmakers and regulators are trying to do more to address consumer concerns. There is no U.S. law, as there is in Europe, requiring companies to allow people to view or delete their personal data on file at an institution. Last year, Sens. John Kerry (D., Mass.) and John McCain (R., Ariz.) introduced legislation that would require most data brokers to let people view and make corrections to the personal data stored about them. The White House is expected to call for similar rights when it releases its “Privacy Bill of Rights” later this year.

    The Federal Trade Commission has recently increased scrutiny of some background-check providers. Last week, the agency sent letters warning three marketers of mobile apps that provide background checks that they might be violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The act says that if an individual’s personal data are used to deny them a job, a loan, housing or other important benefit, the individual must be given an opportunity to view the data and dispute its accuracy. In its warning letters, the agency said it hadn’t yet determined if the apps were violating the law. [...]

    The agency also has stepped up enforcement of companies that don’t honor privacy promises. Two years ago, the agency forced the online people directory, US Search Inc., to refund nearly 5,000 people who had paid to remove their records from the site but whose information wasn’t completely removed. Last year, the agency forced online advertising company Chitika Inc. to delete data it had collected from people who tried to opt-out but were unaware that Chitika’s opt-out expired after 10 days. [...]

    Companies that sell data about individuals online say it is difficult to completely remove people’s information from their sites because personal records are difficult to match. An individual’s middle name may be included in some records and not others, or records for the same person can contain different addresses. [...]

    But Sarah Downey, an attorney at Abine, the privacy start-up, argues that it is deceptive for websites to promise removal if they can’t deliver it. Ms. Downey has filed a complaint against BeenVerified with the FTC, alleging that the site reinstated information of eight of Abine’s DeleteMe customers approximately three months after their removal requests were initially honored.

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