How Private Investigators Use the Internet to Track You
The internet is as deep as it is wide. And we are just singular entities drifting across the surface, perhaps clinging to a piece of driftwood.
Underpinning us, keeping us afloat is the raw data we generate and consume so readily. If we are generating the ocean, the driftwood is surely our user profile. Buoyancy aside, the data questions are real. I think that in 2016 a majority of internet users understand the adage “if you’re not paying for it, you are the product,” and how this very utterance keeps our favorite social media sites free at the point of consumption .
In 2016, databases move everything around us (not cash, as Wu-Tang would have you believe) and for the most part, there is very little to stop your personally identifying information featuring in commercially accessible database products.
It isn’t that the PIs have been stalking you, snapping you eating from the McDonald’s Dollar Menu. No, they’ve just got a hell of lot better at collating publicly available information, as well receiving generous helping hands from so-called “data-fusion” businesses.
What have they got on you? And what damage could they do?
How hard do you think it would be to track you down? I’ll consider myself: extremely easy. I’m using public WiFi without a VPN, I used my debit card to pay for the Eggs Benedict and coffee I just consumed, and regularly use public services (the library, etc.) using my full name and corresponding address. Other things: I’m registered to vote, my driving license carries the same address, and I leave my social media accounts logged in from time-to-time.
I’m an easy-to-find individual; if someone hired a Private Investigator to find me , they wouldn’t end up with a very big paycheck, that’s for sure.
You see, those descriptors I just listed will all be included on a database, somewhere. For well over a decade Private Investigators have had access to a number of detailed databases that combine easily accessible public information, and not so easily accessible non-public records, into handy, searchable pay-for-access databases. The subscription databases combine records such as known addresses, up-to-date home and cell numbers, DMV records, photographs of vehicle licenses, home ownership details, voting records, and plenty more, then condense them into a comprehensive report.
This can be done for as little as $10.
The subscription database offerings have expanded in the last few years. Those third-party trackers we are always talking about, that marketers use to build detailed advertising profiles to streamline their product placements, are increasingly being used alongside those public (and non-public) records to curate an intensely accurate tapestry of your life.
The databases are not simply archival, either. The amount of data generated each and every day around the globe is steadily increasing — we’re currently at about 2.5 Exabytes per day — and of that, a massive proportion is personal data. That means the databases must be dynamic, combining “public records with purchasing, demographic, and behavioral data.”
“..idiCORE combines public records with purchasing, demographic, and behavioral data …it’s already built a profile on every American adult…”
— World Privacy Forum (@privacyforum) August 6, 2016
One-year-old company IDI is one of those database curators. They are one of the first companies to take on the challenge of centralizing a simply stupendous amount of information and making it readily available for those willing to pay the subscription fee. What sets them and their idiCORE database aside are advances in correlating purchasing and behavioral data, and how they go about recording that data.
I’m sure you’re thinking telephoto lens. GPS tracker on the car. Cloned sim-cards. Nope, nope, and nope.
— Integrated Security (@GoIntegrated) June 9, 2016
These tools are all part of the PIs repertoire, but IDI have an alternative method of gentle coercion. They run two popular coupon websites, allamericasavings.com and samplesandsavings.com. If you sign up to one of these sites, you’re prompted to enter an email address, date of birth, and home address. This information immediately links you to your personal idiCORE profile.
“We have repeatedly stated that this product will continually evolve, and this is just one more step in that process. Expanding our data assets is an essential part of our product roadmap. Coupled with our proprietary analytics and linking technology, greater data translates to greater insight, resulting in a more powerful solution for our customers. The addition of criminal records is an important step in widening the addressable markets served by idiCORE” — Derek Dubner, CEO of IDI
Sign-up for a quote on allamericansavings.com and you’ll be providing details of existing personal data. Sign-up for a sampleandsavings.com account and you’ll be prompted to divulge medical information to tailor medical discounts to your health.
Is It Worrying?
That depends on how you look at it, and how you feel about data privacy in general. These databases exist, whether we like it or not. Our data is being correlated for use, and correlated it shall remain. Whether dynamically updating information that might be used later is problematic is up to you — but you won’t get yourself removed from the big list.
This. "Industry analysts say adding purchasing + behavioral data to conv data fusion outmatches rival systems in capabilities & creepiness."
— Jr. SQL DBA (@jr_dba) August 12, 2016
Furthermore, unless you’re committing fraud, an act of terrorism, have gone missing (you’re still here, right?!), or engaging in other criminal activities, this information won’t be easily divulged. Similarly, if you’re cheating on your spouse/partner, you might find your credentials being itemized and issued as a report. But it all costs, and it certainly isn’t cheap. I’m unsure of the exact billing process in place for idiCORE, but a number of other PI database tools charge a subscription and sometimes for specific itemized searches.
Therein partially lies the issue. IDI are making serious bank on your data . When you acquiesce to Facebook pillaging your data , you knowingly enter into a contract exchanging data for a rolling stream of misinformed political posts and pictures of babies. You’ve given the data willingly, and the same can be said for any of the other social media sites we visit.
Facebook is not anymore a social media, it is a cash machine which is collecting your data to make money, pushing you for money in any way
— #ArlindLuma (@Arlindluma) August 16, 2016
But in the case of IDI and the PI databases out there, unless you can pay the entry fee, you won’t be viewing your profile any time soon.
The other part of the issue relates to the latter: you literally cannot stop this from happening. There is no “opt-out.” IDI knows the color of your car, how many bathrooms are in your house, who you voted for, your favorite films, and whether you eat Chinese every second Tuesday.
Every Click You Take, They’ll Be Watching You
It isn’t entirely “it.” The public databases are, of course, public. They’re maintained and updated by government offices because they have to be. Other information is always publicly available and will continue to be so.
If we have shown you nothing else throughout this article you should at least realize that your social accounts are an easy discovery route, and many of us happily disclose way too much identifiable data.
Of course, many just don’t care.
Are you upset that databases like this exist? Is it that someone is profiting from your data? Or that you have no say in your inclusion, that there is no opt-out? Let us know your thoughts below!
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