Nice Privacy You Got There, Says Intelius

Would be a shame if anything happened to it.

If any company knows about the perils of having a poor reputation online, it's Intelius. The Bellevue-based Web services firm has faced an onslaught of negative publicity in recent years, including from Seattle Weekly—which, in a cover story last year, detailed the company's deceptive marketing tactics and the legions of unhappy consumers who felt they were ripped off ("The Internet 'Wizard' Strikes Again," March 18, 2009). So it's ironic that Intelius is launching a product this week that it says will help people "control" their digital identity. Actually, the main thing it seems to do is allow people to monitor the information that Intelius itself, and similar companies, are disseminating. Intelius sells people searches, which provide addresses and telephone numbers, as well as background checks that delve into criminal and civil court records. By signing up for Intelius' new TrueRep service, for $9.95 a month, you get the privilege of seeing that data. "This information . . . gives consumers full transparency of the public information—right or wrong—that is associated with them," says an Intelius press release. In other words, you're paying the company in part to see if the information it has about you is correct—which, as our story reported, it often isn't. In an interview, Intelius spokesman Jim Cullinan says the company's data comes from public records. The monthly fee also allows TrueRep users to withhold two addresses and one phone number from the data about them that Intelius sells. Intelius is also promising that TrueRep will help users "promote" themselves online through "tools" that improve Google results associated with their name. The service is only available to individuals right now, which is a shame because Intelius itself could probably use it. Intelius, run by self-declared Internet "wizard" Naveen Jain, isn't the first to get into this line of business. For example, a California company called Reputation Defender also claims it can help you manage your online profile. But that seems to be all Reputation Defender does—unlike Intelius, which invades your privacy at the same time it promises to protect it.

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