San Francisco Chronicle columnist David Lazarus noted last week that ZabaSearch.com, a search engine for personal information both sensitive and mundane, plans this Thursday to roll out a blogging service. ZabaBlog, Lazarus wrote, "allows people -- former classmates, ex-lovers, disgruntled co-workers -- to discuss you online."
Call it "slogging" -- slandering by blog.ZabaSearch is an information aggregator. It claims the information it provides comes from public records. These include phone listings, court records, real-estate records, subscriptions, and the like. Under current laws, providing this information is not illegal.
Adding the ability to review listed people as if they were products, however, has potential legal complications. "It's easy to imagine this opening up the company to all sorts of litigation," Chris Hoofnagle, who runs the West Coast office of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said in Lazarus's article.
Hoofnagle's observation -- that it might be up to individuals to police comments about themselves to see if anything malicious has been posted -- is particularly unsettling. What kind of business model is that, where you're compelled to visit a site out of fear?
As for the search aspect of the business, offering limited personal information to entice users to purchase more detailed dossiers about individuals seems equally exploitive. It does have a certain logic to it though -- revealing information, unlike revealing photography, isn't widely seen as harmful or immoral.
Between ZabaSearch, other search engines, and other data brokers in the $2 billion information industry, the only thing that's hard to find these days is privacy.