Prying Eyes On The Web
Flying under the radar of the Google-Microsoft rivalry in the high-stakes search industry is a new gang of sites that build deep dossiers on your secrets -- and those of your pals -- just from your keyboard strokes.
The launch of Microsoft's Bing on Wednesday is putting the spotlight on some of the darker corners of the search industry, including sites that online experts say act like privacy pirates on the prowl for users' secrets.
Under the guise of "marketing research," these new search engines feed on social and people networks -- as well as contents of your e-mail address books -- to collect data ranging from favorite foods to photos with old flames.
The outreach of these commercial entities, which cost just a few bucks a month, makes Big Brother looks passť, according to the current issue of PC World.
PC World's wrap-up on the new "people eaters" says the firms operate legally because the information they capture is already out there for the public to see.
Among the leading outfits trafficking in your personal life are Spokeo, Pipl and CVGadget.
Spokeo's Web site promises to help you "uncover personal photos, videos and secrets," including "juicy" and "mouthwatering news about friends and coworkers."
"Aggregated identity is actually a new type of identity," says Spokeo CEO Harrison Tang.
Spokeo uses online address book contacts to track personal activity on the Internet, from blogs to file share services including Facebook and MySpace. Even random photos posted years ago on Flickr could pop up in seconds.
Other sources are Amazon Wish Lists, Pandora playlists and many of the movie rating sites, said PC World.
None of the new search outfits apologize for the prying.
"All you can do is learn to live with it," said Kevin B. McDonald, executive VP of Alvaka Network, a network management firm.
"That's the confines of the world we live in."
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