Saturday 26 August 2006

Oh, Just What I Need, More Stalkers

This is a post about the way we define personal versus how we define private.

I log on this morning and Faruk IMs me a link to my “page” on AboutUs.Org.

AboutUS is apparently some kind of “who’s who” of the Web. The disturbing issue is how much personal information is gathered on a page, including address, phone numbers, and maps to your place.

Social networking encourages us to share information. My thought is that AboutUs isn’t going to XFN or RSS or Technorati or respective networks such as 9rules to ask for information.

Rather, information is gathered independently and apparently via domain registration information. Which, as most know, if you want to make contact information on domain names private, you’re going to likely pay more money and make it more difficult for legitimate people to find you.

I think AboutUS is creating a blurry line as it gathers all this information into one grouping. I’m not the only one who is concerned and I think a solid conversation is in order.

There’s a boundary here that even I, Ms. Spill-it-all-Personal can argue for. Some of life’s concerns are personal. Some are private.

Personal. Private. There is a distinction of great importance between these two issues.

Any network that decides on its own to determine how, where and when information that should be private is made public is challenging a very sensitive concern.

Here in the U.S. I cannot control certain information being published about what I own, what I owe, and where I live.

Otherwise, that information, which to my way of thinking should be private anyway, is already public. It isn’t as easy to get to, though, and hasn’t been for a long time.

AboutUs changes that, or tries to.

I don’t mind people wanting to get to know me, but I do mind making it easier for even the best of guests to show up at my doorstep uninvited.

The good news is, at least for me, none of the information on AboutUs regarding my real location is quite up to date. Otherwise, who knows? John Dvorak might have even showed up at my door.

AboutUs: Think about what you’re doing. Readers, what do you think? Check it out and let’s discuss where the lines really should be drawn between what is personal and what is truly private.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 12:04 | Comments (68)

Comments (68)

  1. […], who knows. John Dvorak might have even showed up at my door.

    Hey, then at least you could tell him all about CSS right away!

  2. Yeah, AboutUS seems like a Very Not Cool thing.

  3. The instant I saw that site, I thought about how you’d react to it. I was pretty much right, and I don’t disagree with you. I’ve urged Ray King, the person behind AboutUs, to set up an opt-out mechanism for people who don’t want all this stuff gathered up and placed front and center. (The comment with my name attached to it is the only one that’s mine, by the way.) I’ve also avoided talking about the site on my own site because I don’t want to draw attention to it before that mechanism exists.

    It’s true that none of the data he presents is truly private, but in making it so much easier to find, he’s definitely pushing the envelope. How long, I wonder, before serious harm is done as a result?

  4. Molly: I agree with you that social networking is a double-edged sword. By lowering the barrier to entry to online publishing, it also lets in the riff-raff. In the case of AboutUs, free MediaWiki software has been used for self-serving purposes, under the guise of a Wikipedia type directory, rather than in the collaborative nature with which it was created. I think people like this need to be held accountable and kept in-check, if only by raising issues around the morality of their endeavors.

  5. Naturally, we’re all now going there to perform vanity searches. I see my website is still a ‘Litestep news and tutorial’ site, which hasn’t been true for about a million years now. Oh well.

  6. An afterthought: as AboutUs is a Wiki, can’t you just remove any information you don’t want made easily accessible?

  7. Paul: Think about that the other way. Anyone can add the information back. Also remember MediaWiki keeps a history of changes.

  8. Well, Paul, how good it is that we know about it. What about those that do not?

  9. My advice – if you work from home, rent a PO box and use that online – and this includes domain name registrations. When it comes to phone, use a virtual number or a separate ex-directory line. What I have more of a problem with is services like Google groups which can highlight posts made years and years ago.

  10. Nominet, the agency which controls .uk domain names, allows you to opt out of having private information displayed publicly, and for free. It’s a pity that the .com guys (I’m not sure what they’re called) don’t do the same thing (for free, that is).

  11. Pingback: Mark Beveridge » Blog Archive » Personal versus Private

  12. This is just creepy, and I hope there’s a mass movement to opt out, if it gets offered.
    Which I suppose is likely why it hasn’t been.

  13. Where is the line between a business model to track us and a stalker who collects our information? Does one guy run / own this site? Then maybe that’s still stalking i don’t know.

    Maybe if you are a business of a few and you stalk many people then the law has no way of handling that many to many relationship without first creating another relationship entity – mmm if the internet is pipes then where are we with 00 concepts lol??

    IMO if everyone keeps emailing and complaining to their hosting service, complaining to the FBI and constantly contacting them then maybe they’ll think about it. What do you reckon? Oh I’m so naive lol…

  14. Per Mr. King himself on their Concerns page(” I don’t thnk what you’re doing is here is either useful or ethical or even legal” section), delete anything you don’t want showing up.

    Go to it. We’ll see how long it stays away, but the message should be sent, at least.

  15. I am not terribly concerned about the privacy aspect of this – I’ve regarded my domain registration details as public information for a long time, and so I register them using a PO box and an 800 voicemail number.

    However, did you notice they’ve plagiarized content from each site’s “About” page? Pathetic.

  16. I agree it’s a slightly disturbing thing where the line between public / private blurs. I don’t know it’s like certain people in the web just by being in their position are expected to not have their privacy held up. I couldn’t disagree with this less – no matter who they are privacy is your sanity.

  17. It doesn’t seem like they really provide any more information than would normally be available via a domain name search but the concept is perhaps worrying. I certainly don’t like my address included in my domain name record, even if they have got it somewhat wrong.

    Of course I’m aways amazed how much information people willingly divulge about themselves anyway. Take some of the personal photos and corresponding comments posted on Flickr which are marked as public or some of the topics discussed on blogs.

  18. I think part of the issue is that domain registrars are far too free and easy with the contact information they hold. IMHO the only thing they should give out is an email address – and an aliased one at that – and the name of the domain owner. Other than the registrar, nobody really needs the street address of a domain owner. It’s a nasty hole in the privacy perimeter for many individuals – it breaks the rule of ‘don’t give it out if you don’t want it out there’. You can’t not give it out, unless of course you don’t want a domain.

  19. I am sure most of you would have come across spam scams using information found in these databases.
    Kinda funny but sad when I got an email from “me” telling me that my account was over the limit and was about to be shut down — of course the attached file included “the details”. All I needed to do was click…

    Those who are following the rules and entering valid info are the ones getting targeted — the shady domain owners have false info anyway.

    I am not sure what yo can do with sites like AboutUs. If the information is inaccurate you could get your solicitor/lawyer to send a nice letter explaining about misrepresentation.

    The sad fact is if they have scraped it someone else has. Genealogy freaks can be the worst. Have a look for your name on genealogy sites and you may be horrified. I have seen cases where information has been collated from registries of births deaths and marriages and collated with domain info. Really, really scary.

    Legal opinions are needed here. Just because something is published on the web doesn’t mean it is automatically public property.

  20. Ed – The problem is that AboutUs removes all the work that may otherwise deter people from digging about in your personal affairs and plops it all out in one tidy place. People who know me online and participate on my blog, Flickr, etc. can easily piece together my personal details — and that’s fine with me. But to just publish all that data, along with a blessed MAP TO MY APARTMENT? for ant stranger with an internet connection to look at? Well that’s just going too far.

  21. I’m in full agreement with you on the ethical issue Molly. As well as finding it rather disturbing someone would want information like this to be openly available.

    The thing i’m wondering though is why this is as disturbing. Someone wanting to find this information can easilly enough come by it through the same means as aboutus does.

  22. I don’t know, I guess I’m on the other side of this one. So allow me to play devil’s advocate. I don’t have a problem with it. It’s like you said, the information is already public. It’s not hard to find already. So he geocoded it with Google maps. Anybody can do that. Why are you concerned about it now, when you weren’t concerned about it when it was just a plain text whois record? The image of a pushpin in a map pinpointing your location, I suppose. You didn’t have to think about it as much when it was just text, even though you had the same amount of information, and in all of a minute or two you could have had the same map.

    I think what’s more disturbing is for a few dollars you can look up anyone you want to and get just about any information you’d want. This is small potatoes compared to that. I guess it’d be more distressing for someone more in the public eye, such as yourself, but personally, it doesn’t bother me. Of course, that’s not to say I can’t see how it could be troublesome, because I do. I can defnitely empathize with your point-of-view. But, like I said, it’s very easy to get that kind of information, and if you really want it to be private, you shouldn’t have made it public in the first place. And I think that’s the big thing here, the information was already made public, and by you no less.

    But, I dunno, just my two cents. 🙂

  23. Jarad – Comparing with Alexa ( the information on AboutUs is almost identical. I think what tips the balance with AboutUs is the addition of Google Maps – it makes the address somehow more personal.

    Really though the problem is with the information provided in the whois record rather than any of these sites. I can’t see any logical reason why ones full address needs to be published and perhaps this is something people need to be pushing back against.

  24. Scary. I’m not listed but I come up as a “related” site waiting to be filled in by someone. I think Ray needs a taste of his own medecine. I challenge anyone reading this to dig up as much as they can on the guy and post it on his own site. Starting with his home address and phone #.

  25. Apparently, there aren’t any ethics on the web. Creepy, creepy, and more creepy. Why would anyone publish a map to a stranger’s home?

  26. I’m not a lawyer, but my layman’s reading of the fine print that scrolls by every time you do a WHOIS on a domain says that this violates the terms of use of pretty much all of the WHOIS databases. For .com, .net and .edu, there’s a requirement that you obtain written consent from VeriSign before distributing information in their WHOIS, for example.

  27. While the text taken from an About page might be considered fair use, duplicating the Molly logo clearly isn’t. It’s stolen content.

    Regarding the map to your home, why would this be shown? What is the reason for it? Incase someone wanted to visit? But then it allows anyone to find you (assuming it’s accurate). Expect hordes of fans to turn up on a regular basis.

  28. The reasons behind this don’t make sense to me. If I want to know about Molly I can visit Molly’s web site. If i want to contact Molly I can contact Molly through her web site. If I want Molly’s phone number I can ask her and if Molly doesn’t want to give it to me she can make that choice, so I don’t can’t see any benefit to this site other than to hand out information that people do not want handed out.

    It’s quite an eye opener seeing just how easy it is to get hold of this info. And it uncomfortable to know this stuff is now being served up to anyone, even those with a eye for stealing identities – no more rummaging through bins! And where does it end? What else will be added if this site succeeds? Exam results? Driving convictions? Medical records? Family members?

    But I guess I’m not so much worried about the information that’s being collated as I am about the lack of control I have on what is made available. If I could easily control what is and isn’t shown, and more importantly correct anything that’s wrong or out of date, then I think this wouldn’t sit so uncomfortably.

    And what if there’s information relating to my property, a previous owner. Would I have permission to change that? There’s nothing worse than receiving other peoples junk mail – the last thing we need are more collections of out of date info.

  29. Your contact information has always been available when you sign up for a domain.

    This is nothing new, someone just found more creative use for it.

    You have to pay extra to keep your contact information private – check the options wherever you bought the domain.

  30. tpsveyvvna6w67cx6j7hoisc0psq5xoclbnhpm

  31. This kind of post is just what the registars of domains like godaddy and network solutions want to hear so people make there registrations private by paying an extra fee to do so.I keep my phone number unlisted but yet I still recieve telemarketing calls and to do so I have to pay the phone company to unlist me and keep it private.I think it should be the other way around your registration should always be private and you should have to pay in order to have it public.The same with our phone records of course.Anyways rock on Molly you are and always will be the CSS Goddess of cyberspace.

  32. We could also start spreading the following page:
    That tells us the basic pages are created by a Bot.
    We can now stop the bot using the normal Meta tags or include it t our robots.txt.
    It also tells us we’re free to delete section, but as more users above me in this comment section I don’t think it will stay away for long.

    But stopping the Bot will actually help us, if all mayor web guys and gayls put it on and there sites won’t get visited anymore we can start editting stuff out.

    Also, it seems subdomains are save for the Bot?
    As I’ve seen somewere on a list.
    The page was filled in, but I’m almost sure the actual link that was found had to be (maker of the IE7 javascript library).

    I like it when people trust each other and give some about theirselfs to the public.
    But as stated before, it’s not correct if all little snippets are get placed on to each other and make a total overview of everything ever said about you on the web.

    Friendly Greetings,
    Martijn van der Ven

  33. I have a habit of posting my resume online, so if someone really cares enough they could get my address. Hopefully nobody wants to kill me or harm me too much.

    These guys are obviously using webcrawlers to get most of their information, but what the heck is up with their capitalization of (PeTieJoe??). Sorry – way off topic.

    Seeing as it’s a wiki, you could try removing it yourself, with a nice note saying please don’t revert. Or you could “edit” it and point them in the wrong direction. But I would never encourage vandalizing a wiki that I didn’t agree with.

    Another interesting note – on their edit page, they say “DO NOT SUBMIT COPYRIGHTED WORK WITHOUT PERMISSION!”, yet they have done that with your own site by posting your logo, etc to begin with.

  34. I guess living outside of the US is an advantage when being listed at that webpage. Roger Johanssons informationpage has the address “Sweden” and no email listed, despite the fact that both the city of his residence and his email is found at his webpage.

  35. Eeek, I don’t like that at all. I protested. 🙂

    Personal vs. Private information is highly subjective. AboutUs has made a big mistake by assuming that everyone is on the same comfort level when it comes to the disclosure of information. Very bad call.

  36. And why is their logo a bow-legged stick man ‘walking like an Egyptian’?

  37. I’m not bothered about my privacy on aboutus. Anything that aboutus can crawl, any nutball stalkers could crawl as well. The public availability of that information in the first place is another matter of course…

    More’s the point, I hate schyster-ish schemes like this – they’re just glaring examples of the worse side of human nature: At best this is a get-rich-quick scheme, at worst it’s utterly pointless, doing a job better done by google and blogrolls/link lists. Stop wasting time.

    The ‘brand’ irks me. It implies group ownership – but i’m not part of this group. ‘Aboutyourself’ would be more apt. That mincing stickman doesn’t represent me and my value system.

    If you ignore it, it’ll go away. If you make it useless (, it’ll go away. If you make it more trouble than it’s worth to operate, by consistently vandalising your own page (, it’ll go away:

  38. While (for the moment)the implication of this site are more unsettling than its implementation, I have to wonder what would happen if someone posted an highly unfavourable review (since the site says it also posts reviews of the sites they list) of some high profile site such as Microsoft, Apple, Oracle SCO or the RIAA? Or sued for defamation becasue of such a review? A site like this could be walking on some thin ice methinks.

    Interesting that they also own Snapnames, an expiring/expired domain auction/purchase site.

  39. I just noticed they’re included on some whois pages.
    Try doing some Whois actions on “”.
    For example, try to do it for
    Under “Page Information” you’ll see the following:
    Website Title: [favicon]
    Record Type: Domain Name
    About Us: [stickman] Wiki article on

    By linking to these pages they actually help others to find even more information about you.
    As “WD Milner” sad it’s interesting to see they own more services.
    That’s probably the reason why it’s so easy for them to get linked on whois pages and to crawl information.

    Friendly Greetings,

    PS: Spread the word, denie there bot! –

  40. I appreciate the candid feedback and would like to clarify and respond to some of the concerns expressed. It would be too much to post here, so if you have time, please take a look at this page: I’m sure it won’t address all of the questions, but it may go some of the distance. Further input from you and your readers is welcome – Ray.

  41. And why is a commercial endeavor masquarading as a non-profit by using a .org domain? Oh wait – never mind …

  42. Interestingly, my entry just gives my website info with no personal details whatsoever. Is that because I live outside the US, or am I just not significant enough to warrant 🙂

  43. I actually had some Chinese Jehovah’s Witnesses show up at my door because they used the phone book and looked for “Chinese ” sounding last names. I am really nervous as to what may happen if there was even more information.

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  48. cannot help at all when someone’s writing bad things about our company in non english language. and they defend the previous content with their life! when i try to delete and edit the abusing content, they recover THE WHOLE THING written previously WITHOUT understand what it is on the page (which was an abusing info about our company) Poor thing…

  49. If you’re concerned, then pay the extra for the ‘private’ domain registration. The information they collect is what you post on your site and in WHOIS data. Since ICANN regulations state you have to provide accurate data and it will be publicly posted, you should learn your rights, read terms of service and/or take steps to keep data private that you want private.

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