For $15, you can purchase incorrect information, and to prevent people from getting it, you have to renew every three months


Given what I know about Naveen Jain, I basically view everything he does with enormous skepticism.¹ I mean, I trust lawyers more than I trust that guy, that's how bad it is.

After being booted from InfoSpace, Jain moved across the street and founded Intelius, a company that does basically the same thing: Selling directory information.² Recently, the company launched a cell phone look-up service: For $15 you can obtain the cell phone number of anybody in their directory. Mind you, the information is cobbled together from various private sources, and it can even be wrong, but if the result is incorrect, you won't get a refund. Cellphone industry lobbyist Steve Largent calls it a "scam", and that's saying a lot, coming from somebody whose own job doesn't rank very high on the trust scale either.

They claim to have collected this information from private sources. Did you give the pizza delivery store your cell phone number? They may have sold it to Intelius. The auto mechanic shop? They may have sold it to Intelius. Ironically, the very first sentence in the Intelius Privacy Policy is "Intelius respects your right to privacy, and we are committed to protecting it." And yet they make it difficult to protect your privacy: Read on.

I called their customer support line to remove my cell phone number from their database. You can try it, too: +1-425-974-6100, then 1, then 1; but I'll save you the trouble and tell you the answer. (If you don't trust me, you can call and confirm this information for yourself.)

  • Make a cell phone search for yourself on their Web site.
  • Proceed as if you actually wanted to pay $15 to get the information, but don't do it.
  • Print out the Web page that shows the information that they are offering to sell for $15. (Your cell phone number, your unlisted telephone number, etc.)
  • Send a fax to +1-425-974-6194 containing that screenshot, your name, address, and date of birth.
  • Wait seven to ten days for the change to take effect.
  • The request is valid for three months; after three months, you must repeat the process.

Such is their commitment to privacy that they make you jump through these hoops four times a year. Even the opt-out requests for the dreaded Direct Marketing Association are good for five years.

According to the privacy statement, you can direct any questions or concerns regarding their Privacy Policy to privacy@intelius.com. Good luck. (They brag about the blog they started in April, but if you follow the link you find no blog.)

As Scott McNealy famously put it, "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it."

Nitpicker's Corner

¹The opinions expressed herein are my own and are not an official position of Microsoft Corporation.

²Although this statement is written as if it were a fact, it is actually my interpretation based on what I remember and may be incorrect.

Comments (27)
  1. CGomez says:

    Footnote 3:  Scott McNealy’s opinions, quoted in an informal MSFT blog, do not constitute endorsement by MSFT, by Raymond Chen, by me (C Gomez), or by Bill Gates.  They may or may not represent official opinions of Sun Microsystems, who may or may not directly or indirectly collborate with MSFT or any of MSFT’s partners on projects, systems, ideas, or pizzas.  Comments being posted do not represent endorsement (silent or explicit) by Raymond Chen, MSFT, the XNA team or the team that developed Micrsoft Bob, whether they are current or former employees, or were actually employees at the time of said development.

  2. ² says:

    Regarding ²: which is the same as their interpretation of the data they hold about you. Can we get compensation if what you say proves to be incorrect?

  3. Michael Moulton says:

    I’m sure that Raymond will be glad to reimburse you the $0 he charged you to read the blog.

  4. Wesha says:

    As Scott McNealy famously put it, "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it."

    Honestly, that’s a very useful advice. With all due respect, I’m afraid whoever thinks otherwise still lives, mentally, in XX century. The faster one gets back to the sense of the world around him, the better.

  5. Gil-Ad says:

    How fun… This blog now requires a full time job lawyer just to get through the posts…

  6. George Jansen says:

    The cell phone industry hired Steve Largent to make us think of good reception?

  7. JenK says:

    2 points for George ;)

    A quick search on myself reveals 2 cell phone hits, which from the carriers could be my current and previous cell #s.  It also gets 8 other cell hits.  

    In residential, there’s what could be my current home phone #. And 3-5 previous phone numbers (the Tacoma and Seattle hits could be someone else, but could also be me, misfiled).  And, again, other residential hits.

    So, a bit like search results everywhere – loads of hits, need to check each one out. $15 for the #s of the whole results lists might be reasonable.  $15 each?  Please.

  8. Aidan Thornton says:

    This is the sort of shady tactics that the Data Protection Act here in the UK was designed to prevent. (In particular, data may only be used for the original purpose for which it was collected and may not be disclosed to third parties without the individual’s consent.)

    Of course, last I heard the opposition party were advocating scrapping it in the name of cutting red tape.

  9. DGray says:

    This is just perfect.  

    I’d like to remove my private information from your site, but first I have to disclose additional private information they likely don’t have yet (bday) as well as confirm that what they suspect is my number is in fact correct.

  10. ulric says:

    today I’ve found ‘spock’ a site that agregates information from linkedin, facebook and other places, on everybody.

    try it..

    http://www.spock.com/Raymond-Chen

    and read the scary Wire article about it

    http://www.wired.com/techbiz/startups/news/2007/08/spock_reputation

    They say you can remove your information from the web if you don’t want it on their site. But isn’t it on their site forever once they found it?

  11. Nawak says:

    I like Raymond’s photo on Spock!

    I think it’s the photo he told us about where he poses "like a girl"

  12. mikeb says:

    >

    As Scott McNealy famously put it, "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it."

    Honestly, that’s a very useful advice. With all due respect, I’m afraid whoever thinks otherwise still lives, mentally, in XX century. The faster one gets back to the sense of the world around him, the better.

    <<

    So instead of trying to get whatever privacy we should have or want to have, we should ‘get over it’.  Nice.  I suppose you haven’t been hit by an identity theft yet.  Hey, since privacy is now moot, why not post your name, SSN, credit card numbers, or other details here, and we’ll get you started.

    Didn’t think so.

  13. Joe says:

    It is my recollection[1] that, similar to faxes, it is illegal to make unsolicited commercial calls to cell phones, because there is a direct cost to the person receiving the unsolicited call.  In that case, could we[2] start a class action lawsuit against them as an accessory to illegal phone spamming?

    [1] And I may be completely wrong about this, in which case, disregard.

    [2] By which I mean "you", because I don’t actually have a cell phone.

  14. Mike Fried says:

    I would expect cell phone spamming to be illegal because the user has to pay to receive the call, so direct market advertisers attempting to do so can be sued (they can be sued anyway).

    But lets assume that this service is legitimate. Lets say I want to reconnect with an old friend from college by the name of Sara Smith, and I pay $15 for this service and call all the cell phone numbers for all the Sara Smiths they give me, but Sara Smith being a common name, I don’t actually get the right one. Then I’m out $15 and I voted with my wallet for a service which didn’t end up being helpful, and in doing so, I cost a bunch of people a couple of cell phone minutes.

    Some ideas are just plain inconsiderate. I can’t imagine this service is useful enough of the time to justify the ridiculous price tag.

  15. Dewi Morgan says:

    "the user has to pay to receive the call"

    …in what backward country do they charge people to receive phone calls?

  16. Simon Cooke says:

    Woo… according to the site, I have a bunch of relatives that I’ve never met. (Well, ok, one was a landlady in my apartment complex – same last name).

    I hope some of them are really rich and die soon.

  17. DriverDude says:

    "…in what backward country do they charge people to receive phone calls?"

    Right here in the good ‘ol U.S. of A… and I like it!

    I honestly believe that if cell calls were free to receive, I’d have as much problems with telemarketers as I do at home, even with the Do Not Call lists.

    It just so happens that my phone plan gives me enough included minutes that I don’t usually "pay" to receive calls. If I received enough telemarketing calls though, I will pay 45 cents/minute and I will be PISSED OFF.

    The pay-to-receive method doesn’t stop all junk: recently I’ve been getting junk SMS (text messages) offering "cheap software"  The sender # is blocked and my phone company refuses to tell me who sent it.

    In America, nothing is respected until it has a dollar value assigned. The time it takes for me to receive a junk call is not respected unless there is a dollar amount attached. Then the 45 cents to receive a call can be wielded against the telemarketer as a "property rights" violation (or whatever the proper legal theory is)

  18. Nawak says:

    Should I feel lucky to neither pay incoming calls on my mobile nor have spam on it?

    Sometimes the laws-that-hurt-free-market really do feel good.

  19. ² says:

    > Raymond will be glad to reimburse you the $0 he charged you

    Now read what I wrote again *exactly*.

  20. Jivlain says:

    Wait, in the US you have to pay to *receive* calls? Here (in Aus), you only have to pay to make ’em.

    Our scammers call so it rings once and then hang up, causing you to ring back and pay to get a recorded message about how you’ve won $40 worth of rubbish.

  21. mccoyn says:

    For cell phones, in the US you pay for the minutes you use, whether they are incoming calls or not.  For a land line, you only pay for out-going long distance calls.

    In Australia do people have to pay more when they call a cell phone than when they call a land line?

  22. Mikkin says:

    So instead of trying to get whatever privacy we should have or want to have, we should ‘get over it’.  Nice.

    McNealy’s prognosis is right, but not his presctiption. Invasion of privacy is as inevitable as death, but that is no reason to roll over and die.

  23. Jivlain says:

    mccoyn: yes, significantly. Calling a mobile (called a mobile here, not a cell) and you’re looking at about 30c/30sec, whereas a landline is around the district of 20c, untimed.

  24. Jivlain says:

    Obviously the 20c untimed is for a local call, long-distance calls do cost more, and are timed.

  25. Wesha says:

    You don’t get it. "Get over it" doesn’t mean "you should not happily hand out your information now". It means "Nobody will protect you. You are on your own. Learn to behave in such a way as not to disclose anything of importance. Remember there’s *likely* always a camera/microphone/etc. trained on you."

    In other words, welcome to 1984.

  26. David Walker says:

    Do what I do — don’t have a cell phone.  That way you’re not paying for people to call you.

  27. I know you said you didn’t want it, but we’re going to send it to you anyway.

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