Yes. We can Google each other. Yes. As a manager, I’ve Googled others prior to interviews and such and. Yes. I’ve Googled others I’ve been curious about for whatever reason.

Spock.com, however, may be nonetheless disturbing. I haven’t really decided how I think/feel about this product as yet. As a people search engine, they seek out information about individuals from various disparate sources and collect them in one place. Technologically, I’m sure it’s all very interesting how they do this. It’s likely they have some internal schema representing individuals and clearly they’ve built connectors of various sorts to scrape specific fields of other services. Though I’m not at all sure such services offered permission to do so or if their spider will respect other services blocking methods. It could be such services don’t care to be dis-intermediated and may just take other steps to block them. But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion. In my case, having a fairly distinctive last name and likely unique first/last name combo, it’s likely not all that difficult to avoid the disambiguation one gets when search for “John Smith,” in which case one must try to sift though the list seeking other differentiating data points. In any case though, Spock offers up impetus to yet again bring up what’s not yet a tired discussion on the nature of privacy; online or otherwise.

Not the Old Privacy / Control Thing Again…

Spock does offer some controls on how you can remove or specify your ‘own’ information and I’ll get to that in a little while. First lets re-visit a couple of privacy points.

Privacy remains elusive to define. It means different things to different people at different times.

Personally, I’m hardly a private person. Which may be a bit ironic given that years ago I wrote a book on personal privacy. Nonetheless, being a web worker and very much an ‘of the Internet’ type person, I have blogs, web pages, various profiles on services from LinkedIn to Facebook to Myspace, etc. Still, I make a distinction between secrecy, privacy and the concept of control as well as information in context. Nothing about my life is all that secret. Yet I do consider some things private. And in all cases, I would like to enjoy what I consider to be a right to control access and use of those data points I see as being “my” information. Especially in appropriate venues.

To some degree within some understood realms this is not possible. I realize that the government demands certain information, my driver’s license or pilot’s license for example, remain available for whatever inter-agency needs the government may have. I realize that. It’s part of my implicit contract with such agencies for the privileges such licenses afford me. And though I’d like more control over such things, marketers will pay for my contact information and use it to try to sell me stuff. Which is fine when they get it right as I actually like appropriately targeted catalogs and such. I don’t think it’s digressing to note how society has collectively decided on certain limits. For example, the telephone marketer “Do Not Call List” which effectively decimated the telemarketing industry. The point is, we decided that certain intrusions at certain times are wholly unacceptable. In that case, “privacy” meant freedom from harassment via the phone ringing all the time during dinner.

Getting back to Spock then, a search for me found a couple of profiles. This is apparently due to their being multiple entries on multiple sites. As it turns out, one of the entries is from a dating site. Since I’ve now been with the same woman for some time, I’m not on that site anymore and don’t even have access to the old profile, this is 1/2 amusing, 1/2 annoying.

Claiming Your Profile

To claim your profile, you have to enter your credentials on one of the services from which Spock gathered your data. It’s hard to know where to start in terms of just why this is a problem. From a practical point of view, I understand why they do this. They’re a ‘net start-up. They hardly have personnel to verify via any rational means just who people say they are. By being able to verify login credentials, they believe they can know this person is really the owner of such a profile. There’s obvious flaws here; after all, I could open a LinkedIn account under a false name with any dummy Email and do whatever I’d like to damage someone’s reputation. But lets leave aside outright mischief for a moment. Just who is this Spock that I should trust with my login credentials for a professional service of which I’m apart? Am I supposed to assume that the Vulcan name offers some degree of trust? I’m reasonably sure that the folks at Spock are just perfectly fine folks going about their days and couldn’t care less about me in particular. Still, they want my login info for another service? I don’t think so. At least, not just yet. We’ll see.