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US Search Settles with FTC Over Deceptive Marketing

Many consumers want to manage their online identity and reputation, especially when the online information is false or misleading. Unfortunately, some companies have rushed to take advantage of consumers' fears.

Late last month, US Search settled charges with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about deceptive marketing. The settlement requires the data broker to refund fees to about 5,000 consumers and not to engage in future deceptive marketing:

"US Search, Inc., 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... Since June 2009, US Search sold consumers its “PrivacyLock” Service, which it claimed would allow them to “lock their records” and prevent their names and other information from appearing on the company’s website, its search results, or advertisements for a year."


In its complaint, the FTC alleged the data broker's promises to consumers were false and that the PrivacyLock Service failed to:

  • Block consumers’ names from showing up as an associate of someone else in a search for the other person’s name;
  • 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;
  • Work when the consumer changed addresses, thereby generating new records that would not be subject to the PrivacyLock

A "reverse search" is when a user enters a phone number or street address and the service displays the person's name. This website capability has been around for years at popular white-page telephone book websites such as AT&T AnyWho and WhitePages.com. This is one reason why I pay the extra monthly fee to not disclose my landline phone number in the telephone company's white pages. Once your landline phone number gets out, it will likely end up in lots of data brokers' databases.

Many data brokers compile and resell information about consumers. To learn more, read these blog posts about Spokeo and Acxiom. Plus, many states' registry of motor vehicles departments sell data to data brokers. In July of this year, a major DPPA class-action lawsuit was dismissed.


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