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Privacy Digest 9.03 1/6/00

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PRIVACY Forum Digest      Thursday, 6 January 2000      Volume 09 : Issue 03


            Moderated by Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com)         
              Vortex Technology, Woodland Hills, CA, U.S.A.
                       ===== PRIVACY FORUM =====              

                 The PRIVACY Forum is supported in part by
               the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery)     
	         Committee on Computers and Public Policy,      
		 Cable &amp; Wireless USA, Cisco Systems, Inc., 
                           and Telos Systems.
                                 - - -
             These organizations do not operate or control the     
          PRIVACY Forum in any manner, and their support does not
           imply agreement on their part with nor responsibility   
        for any materials posted on or related to the PRIVACY Forum.

	Free Access Web Site Reveals Your Date of Birth, City, 
	   Gender to the World (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)
	Firm Builds Massive Database of Unlisted Phone Numbers
	   (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)
	"Google" Search Engine Cache Overrides Web Site Content Decisions
	   (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)

 *** Please include a RELEVANT "Subject:" line on all submissions! ***
            *** Submissions without them may be ignored! ***

The Internet PRIVACY Forum is a moderated digest for the discussion and
analysis of issues relating to the general topic of privacy (both personal
and collective) in the "information age" of the 1990's and beyond.  The
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All submissions should be addressed to "privacy@vortex.com" and must have
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The PRIVACY Forum archive, including all issues of the digest and all
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     Quote for the day:

	"I'm impatient with stupidity."

	    -- Klaatu (Michael Rennie)
	       "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (Fox; 1951)


Date:    Thu, 6 Jan 2000 10:59 PST
From:    lauren@vortex.com (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)
Subject: Free Access Web Site Reveals Your Date of Birth, City, 
	 Gender to the World

Greetings.  If it seems that every time you turn around I'm ruining
your day with another example of privacy abuses... well, imagine
how I feel after digging into these abominations.

It's time for another one.  You know how you're frequently asked for your
date of birth as one element of identification when you call credit card
companies or the like?  Well, you can forget about the usefulness of that
information now.  Do you feel that your birthday and age are not the
business of the world at large?  If you're elderly, perhaps living alone,
would you be concerned if anyone, anywhere, could pick you out of a database,
learn your age, and get enough information to help pinpoint your address?

Well, as if you needed more examples of the rampant and egregious
exploitation of "public record" data, check out http://www.anybirthday.com.
This newly announced free Web site provides date of birth, city/state/zip,
and a form of gender information for what it claims are over 135 million
U.S. residents, with more constantly being added.  Anybirthday.com is from
the folks at American Automated Systems Inc. of Louisville, Ohio, an
established accumulator and marketer of your "public record" data.

In addition to the above personal information, Anybirthday also promotes
their links to Amazon.com (themselves not a stranger to privacy problems)
for suggested "birthday gifts" for your search targets.

Do not assume that if you have an unlisted phone number you will not be in
this massive database--they appear to have gathered their data from other
sources (they apologize for the fact that some states "don't make all public
records available all the time"--be thankful for small favors).  But they
claim that the majority of U.S. adults not under the age of 21 are
listed--and they appear to be right.  The system allows the optional use of
zip codes to narrow down the searches among multiple similar names.  They
also have a "reminder" service which allows you to enter new birthdays that
aren't listed (such reminders, once entered, cannot be altered, according to
their current FAQ).

Their data is naturally not perfect.  Gender information (which can be
gleaned in many cases from the "suggested gifts") seems to have a
significant error rate.  Address information appears to not be completely
current, with people listed under addresses from a few years back in some
cases.  But it's accurate enough to cause a lot of people a great deal of
grief.  This also suggests the possibility of persons having multiple
records in the database under multiple addresses, making attempts to remove
entries (see below) potentially more difficult.

Various pages at the site seem to be a moving target.  Just over the
course of a few hours, it appeared that some explanatory text had changed,
and the main search form that I could have sworn originally stated that
entry of partial zip codes was OK now reads "Full Zip Please"...
Anybirthday's "excuse" for having this data is that "anybody" can get such
information if they know how.

There is a method offered to remove records from the database, if you enter
the *exact* name, date of birth, and zip for a record.  In fact, you can
do this for *any* record in the database, there is absolutely no
authentication!  They claim that this will also prevent that record from
being restored to the database based on newer data.  Note however, that this
implies that if a record appears later with newer address information 
that was not previously in the database, you'd have to specifically delete
it at that time (if you knew about it!) since it does not appear that you
can proactively block new data with changed address info.

Anybirthday is supported by advertising, some of which promotes other
"public record" (fee-based) lookups, including name/address matching
and a range of other "services" exploiting your data from motor
vehicle licenses, voter registration information, and other sources.

I would urge *anyone* concerned about the release of the sort of information
provided by Anybirthday to take immediate steps to try remove themselves
from the database.  If you have family or other loved ones who might be at
risk from the public viewing of such data, you should consider informing
them as well and helping them through the process if necessary.  

Several points to remember:

1) Individuals may potentially have multiple records under different
   addresses or even minor name variations.  You need to find and remove
   them all.  After you've found the exact records in question, go to
   http://anybirthday.com/optout.htm to try delete them.

2) New records based on changed data could likely reappear in the database
   at any time.  You'll probably need to check back at intervals to
   search for them.

3) The site is currently *very* sluggish.  At least at the moment, you could
   experience long delays.  You may find it necessary to enable Javascript
   to access some of the pages properly.

You may also wish to consider whether or not you wish to patronize
the advertisers who are affiliated with the Anybirthday service.

Perhaps it's time to call an end to public record data exploitation?  
So much for "self-regulation" in the database industry!

Lauren Weinstein
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum - http://www.vortex.com
Co-Founder, PFIR: People for Internet Responsibility - http://www.pfir.org
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy


Date:    Tue, 4 Jan 2000 17:16 PST
From:    lauren@vortex.com (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)
Subject: Firm Builds Massive Database of Unlisted Phone Numbers

Greetings.  When you designate your phone number as unlisted and/or
non-published (the exact meanings vary from place to place) you probably
expect that it will give you reasonable protection from commercial abuse of
that number.  In particular, you'd likely assume that a marketing firm
unrelated to providing phone service, or to any of your business
transactions, wouldn't be in the business of collecting and providing such
numbers to other firms.  Well, it's time for another nasty surprise!

Say hello to Acxiom Corp. of Conway, Arkansas.  Their database has amassed
almost 140 consumer telephone numbers, including about 20 million unlisted
numbers (that's reportedly around half of the total unlisted numbers in the
United States).

Acxiom's massive systems then combine these numbers with all manner of data
obtained from other sources, to create a "profile" of the type of person
associated with the number--where they live (a wealthy part of town?), what
they drive, perhaps even what sorts of records they buy or which pets are in
the household.

This data is marketed to other firms that then use it to specially route or
target callers to toll-free area codes (e.g. 800, 888, etc.), even before
the calls are answered.  As I've discussed here in the PRIVACY Forum in the
past, callers cannot block their number from being revealed on calls to such
toll-free numbers, on the basis that they are like "collect" callers and the
party called needs to know who is calling to detect abuse.

Buyers of such highly detailed data linked to phone numbers routinely use it
to "pre-screen" (some would say "discriminate") between callers based on the
telephone numbers from which they are calling.  Callers whose number/data
suggest that they're good prospects are routed to the front of waiting
queues for kid-glove treatment and special offers.  Callers with phone
numbers and data (however accurate or inaccurate that data might be) who are
considered less desirable can be relegated to "voicemail hell" and the
dreaded long waiting queue of doom.

While Acxiom reportedly is unwilling to reveal in detail how they have
collected so many unlisted numbers, it seems likely that they have been
gathered from commercial sources who have obtained your number in the past
(perhaps from your calling of other toll-free area code numbers!) and now
feel free to treat it as a commodity to do with as they will.  Much of
Acxiom's other data likely comes from the same sources, combined with now
routinely abused "public record" data.

I've been attempting for several days to arrange an interview with Acxiom
officials, and I'll report back if this is accomplished and any new details
are forthcoming.

Aside from the more general issues of individual control over their personal
information, I would submit that the time has come to revisit the topic of
toll-free number delivery unblockability.  It is indeed the case that the
parties paying for the calls need a way to detect abusive calling patterns.
But this *can* be done without forcing all callers to reveal their numbers
without any controls whatsoever.

What I'd propose is that calls to toll-free numbers be treated much like
ordinary calls, with a couple of important differences.  If the caller does
not have caller-ID blocking enabled on their line (or alternatively, for that
call), the number would be delivered as always, either in realtime "ANI"
systems or on phone bills.  If the caller has blocking enabled, the number
would be delivered with the last four digits replaced by "XXXX" or some
similar mask.  The other digits provided should be enough for the detection
of abuse, and in such cases the toll-free number owner could contact their
toll-free service provider (who would have the entire number on file) to
deal with the situation.

Positive uses of ANI systems, such as helping to verify credit card
mailings ("call this number from your home phone") could still be enabled
even when blocking was present by default, simply by instructing callers to
dial the appropriate unblocking code for that call.

Such procedures could at least add a bit of balance back into the equation,
which right now is totally loaded in favor of your personal information not
really being yours at all!

Lauren Weinstein
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum - http://www.vortex.com
Co-Founder, PFIR: People for Internet Responsibility - http://www.pfir.org
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy


Date:    Tue, 4 Jan 2000 17:35 PST
From:    lauren@vortex.com (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)
Subject: "Google" Search Engine Cache Overrides Web Site Content Decisions

Greetings.  The popular and generally excellent "Google" search engine
(http://www.google.com) includes a feature with a significant scope of
potentially negative ramifications for Web site operators.  

In an attempt to "solve" the problem of people receiving search results that
point at pages which cannot be immediately reached or that no longer exist
(the dreaded "404" error) Google caches (saves) many pages locally, allowing
the user to view the cached pages instead of the current site pages at their

On the surface, this may not sound like a bad idea.  Upon reflection though,
it is ripe with risks, especially as currently implemented.  Google only
indexes any given site relatively infrequently.  This means that cached
pages may typically be considerably out of date (often by months), and may no
longer necessarily represent the current state of the site in question.  A
recent "Washington Post" article suggested that this was a good thing--you
could still view material that Webmasters had chosen to remove.  But this is
not a trivial matter, in fact it can be a very serious negative situation

Web sites frequently change pages to correct errors, remove information that
represents security or privacy violations and problems, and even to abide by
court orders.  By maintaining what amounts to an out of date "shadow" of Web
sites, such changes are rendered effectively moot by Google, as far as anyone
accessing those older cached pages through Google are concerned.  And
obviously, the relationship between the cached pages and current pages could
be disrupted in other ways--links might no longer exist or point at
completely unrelated pages, for example.

This caching feature might not be so bad if all Web sites knew about it, and
if they had some automated way to control it--or at least easily opt-out (or
more ideally opt-in for it to be enabled).  But Google does *not* provide
any routine automated mechanism for opting-out of site caching, other than
to exclude indexing access to a site via the standard "robot exclusion
protocol" file or other indexing control files.  You can not indicate in
those files that you are willing to be indexed but do not wish to be
cached.  Google's cache does *not* adhere to the standard Web page directives
that would ordinarily allow for the control of both page expirations and
more routine ISP caching.  Their FAQ's only comment on this issue is that
they'll consider (e-mailed) requests from sites to remove cached files on a
"case-by-case" basis.  

In a phone conversation I had with Sergey Brin, one of Google's two
founders, he agreed that there were complex issues involved with this sort
of caching, though he pointed out that there are other sites archiving
massive collections of Web pages without the explicit permission of those
sites as well.  This is certainly true, and I'll be reporting more about
these in the future.  But I do feel that when a major search engine like
Google makes outdated pages easily available as part of routine search
results, it adds a major dimension to the problem's scope.

Mr. Brin said that Google ignores expiration and caching control lines on
Web pages since they feel that those directives are not really appropriate
for the sort of archiving in question.  He suggests that a new archive
control standard under development may be appropriate, though this has not
yet been implemented by Google.

In the meantime, if you are involved in a Web site and you consider it
important to have control over your own content, you may want to consider
immediately contacting Google and asking to have any current caching of your
materials removed, and any future caching of your content disabled.  
Mr. Brin stated that the best way to do this is to send a note to
googlebot@google.com (a live person) with the specific requests, being clear
about whether you wish to remove cached material and future caching, all
indexing by Google, or both.  He also suggests sending that e-mail from an
address that would clearly indicate your authority to request those changes
for particular sites (authentication of such requests is a serious problem,
since e-mail addresses can be easily forged).

While I'd agree with Mr. Brin's assessment that in many cases such caching
probably does not represent a major problem, it's precisely those situations
where it really *does* matter, where out of date content can cause serious
concerns, which must represent the lowest common denominator for establishing
standards and controls.  In the final analysis, Web site operators, who are
ultimately responsible for the content from their sites, need to be able to
fully control that content!

Lauren Weinstein
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum - http://www.vortex.com
Co-Founder, PFIR: People for Internet Responsibility - http://www.pfir.org
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy


End of PRIVACY Forum Digest 09.03
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