Boing Boing details an example of the kind of personal data mining problems I discussed in my review of No Place to Hide: Behind the Scenes of Our Emerging Surveillance Society. One of their readers explains his problem:
What, precisely, did it turn up? Ah, the woman could not tell me that, because she herself did not know. She merely entered my name, birthdate, and SS# into her computer terminal, and a service provided by First Advantage SafeRent Inc. told her “no.” So, the apartment complex kept my $75 application fee, showed me the door, and left me to deal with the nice people at SafeRent on my own. This entailed downloading a PDF form from their web site, printing it, signing it, and mailing it to them with a copy of my driver’s license, to prove my own identity. Presumably this is purely for financial reasons, since SafeRent must prefer to sell its information, and will only give it away if I can convince them that I am the “person of interest.”
Since I didn’t feel like waiting for a response that may take several weeks, I decided to satisfy my curiosity with one of the many online services that now offer background checks. I paid a total of $78 for a nationwide search on myself. And, what do you know, there I am, listed as being guilty of a misdemeanor.
Only one problem: I was indeed charged, many years ago, but the charge was dismissed with prejudice, and I have a copy of the court document to prove it.
I will still have to go after more than 100 online background-checking services, one by one, because, inevitably, they are creating their own databases derived from second-hand or third-hand sources. (A local database is so much cheaper for them to search, obviously.) One of the services I looked at states that it will not correct any error until compelled to do so by a court order. And of course new services are popping up all the time.