Online data broker US Search sold a service that claimed to lock down private records so no one else in the world could see them. The Federal Trade Commission said any such privacy claims were false and deceptive.
The company today settled with the FTC requiring it to refund the $10 fee it charged to nearly 5,000 consumers and bars misrepresentations about the effectiveness of any service that purports to remove information about consumers from the broker's website.
According to the FTC, US Search is an online data broker that compiles public records and sells data about consumers to the public. The records may contain not only names, addresses and phone numbers, but also information such as aliases, marriages and divorces, bankruptcies, neighbors, associates, criminal records, and home values. US Search offered customers a variety of search services, including "People Search," "Background Check," Real Estate Reports," and "Criminal Records/Court Records Searches." It also offered a "Reverse Lookup" service that can return the name of an individual associated with a particular phone number or property address.
According to the FTC complaint, the claims were false and the PrivacyLock Service:
- did not block consumers' names from showing up as an associate of someone else in a search for the other person's name;
- did not block consumers' information from appearing in a "reverse search" of their phone number or address, or in a search of their address in real estate records;
- did not work if the consumer changed addresses, thereby generating new records that would not be subject to the PrivacyLock; and did not work if the consumer had multiple records - for example "John Smith" and "John T. Smith."
The FTC has come down hard on privacy violators of late. In July Rite Aid settled FTC charges that it failed to protect the sensitive financial and medical information of its customers and employees. In June, Twitter has agreed to settle FTC charges that it deceived consumers and put their privacy at risk by failing to safeguard their personal information. Then in March Dave & Buster's, Inc. settled agency charges that the company left consumers' credit and debit card information vulnerable to hackers, resulting in several hundred thousand dollars in fraudulent charges.
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