Its my privacy, or is it? (and what it means for our students)

simulpost with TechLearning

I am editing to explain more clearly how this is different from regular public records. Several bloggers have noted that this information is already available, which some of it is. My additions are in italics.

Ethics discussions belong "smack dab in the middle" of schools so that students will understand when they are adults that just because they can, doesn't mean they should.

We have had some interesting class discussions about the new company Intelius which for $15 dollars will sell your cell phone number, unlisted number, social security number and more for a fee. (I think it is perhaps this purchase of cell phone numbers and unlisted numbers which is NOT in the public records database as most bothersome.)

I looked up myself and it had every address I've ever lived (since turning 21) and the following information for ONLY $49.95 and although I have no criminal record, I was stalked in college and it is that which bothers me most!


Goodbye privacy! Hello, whoever shows up on my doorstep that doesn't like me!

My students were very disturbed and pointed out two things that bothered them in particular:

1) The photograph:

My students felt it implied some sort of stalking or finding someone who may not want to be found. In their words, "that photo creeps me out."

This shows a man approaching a woman on her front porch with the door open.

For me, it brings back very bad memories of a time when a boy in college who had one date wanted another date and much more from me and I was not interested in him. It was a very scary time in which every guy friend I knew took turns escorting me and ultimately -- there were times I was approached when others still weren't around. (Like the time he started "dating" a girl down the hall but still stopped by my room and left messages.) This was solved by a change of address -- but in today's world -- I doubt that a change of address or cell phone number change would help!

This bothers me. It also bothers me that they can search for and find my relatives and close associates, and the value of my home, who my neighbors are, and a satellite map of my house. It seems a little to prepackaged and easy to me.

2) The subtitles

These subtitles are under the photograph.

The right knowledge can make all the difference.

That’s why millions of people rely on Intelius to deliver the information they need to protect their interests and maneuver in a complex world.

Live in the know. Live Inteliusly.

They felt that maneuver was a Machiavellian sort of hint that made them very uncomfortable. (Yes, they said that -- go History teacher!)

As we discussed the other information that could be harmful, they asked:

"What happens when a company figures out archiving people's myspace accounts and will sell you every iteration of a myspace page? (Even after it is "cleaned up" when you get ready for a job.) Or what if someone who has a whole lot of friends decides to sell screen shots of the pages of their friends? "
I also tire of the telemarketers calling me and had my name put on several no-call lists. This means that these numbers can more easily go back on the call list as this company generates leads for others (i.e. give me the name and cell phone # of those who make above $XX).

My goodness!

It also means, that even those who avoid the Internet now have private information on the Internet (and probably don't know it.)

The Right to Privacy
Yes, knowledge is power, but in this case, we have a right to privacy as well.

By the way, I am immediately having myself removed from this service by going to and following the information. Although, by reading the information below, it is doubtful it will do much good!

It does require faxing information to them (which makes me wonder if they will not harvest my fax number.)

Here is what the company says about removing your information:

How can I remove my information from the Intelius public records databases?
Public records, by law, must be available from the official public records office to anyone who requests them. Accordingly, because individuals cannot opt out of public records databases generally, Intelius does not offer individuals the opportunity to opt out of our public records databases. In order for any database of public records to be useful, the databases must contain all of the information in the public records offices. Our data files must accurately reflect the underlying public records, and we do not remove or suppress any information that is both accurate and publicly available. For example, if a bank is going to lend money to a company, it has to be certain that a search of the public records databases will reveal all of the previous encumbrances against the company, so that it can effectively evaluate the risk involved in making the loan.

If you have a compelling privacy or security issue, you may wish to contact the official custodians of those public records that contain sensitive information about you, such as your county's land records office, to determine how to remove your information from the public record. (The process of having public records sealed typically requires a court order.) This process will ensure that the information is not available from the public records custodian, Intelius, or any other information provider.

As a courtesy we can temporarily 'opt out' your information from the Intelius People Search.

Fax or mail your name and address as it appears on our website. Or print the page from our website that includes your information.

Please note that removing the data here does not prevent public records from sending us new information in the future.

Intelius fax number: (425) 974-6194

Intelius, Inc.
500 – 108th Ave NE #1660
Bellevue, WA 98004

So, how does this relate to education?

It relates in every sort of way. Stalking just got a whole lot easier as did predatory behavior. It means that our children's and our own names have become even more important! (Particularly our full names.)

How we use full names
If someone finds out a parent's name, they now know everything they need to know about the child. (They don't seem to have children under 21 in there -- yet.)

We already don't ID children and require the use of pseudonyms and first names in photographs only, however, now identifying parents can be just as harmful. And we often use full name in honor rolls or send it in press releases to newspaper articles.

It is just that we haven't really viewed our own names as private and I'm not really sure how society would function if we begin to. (What do we print on report cards - Full names!) My goodness, our mail has our name on it -- if someone steals mail out of our mailbox, could they now have the key to our lives?

Password security
It also means that we need to teach children (and teachers) methods of creating a password that will not include information from a public record. The first trick of hackers is often to find out the name of a person's relatives because most often, those are in a person's password.

Identity protection
Identity theft has also become easier. I'm not an expert, but am going to find one and read their book.

Educating kids
Kids need to know that these things follow them. I am using this company as a case study in ethics in all of my classes. Let's give them the knowledge to understand what will follow them!

I'm sure if we took a moment, we could think of even more issues for us to consider as educators and guardians of a lot of private information.

What can we do?

Although this information comes from public records, it has become much more easily accessible. I believe that public records should be under the same if not more stringent requirements than our medical doctors and should require a release to send this information to another party.

I believe that we must educate all children (and their parents) about privacy and safety. Not just from a fear perspective but as a positive approach. I will however say, that this company strikes fear in the heart of even pretty optimistic me.

We have a problem. The dollar has become more important than fundamental belief in right and wrong. So, as much as I do not like big government and bureaucracy -- I believe where the privacy and safety of our citizenry (and truly the world citizenry) are considered, that we cannot be too safe.

What do you think? In particular, how does it need to change what we do in schools?

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