Senators ask FTC to stop exploitation on people search sites

Photo (c) Manuel Breva Colmeiro - Getty Images

Information available through data brokers can be used by stalkers and violent abuse perpetrators

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to combat stalkers’ exploitation of people search websites. 

In a letter to the agency, the senators said there’s a clear need for action to protect people who have been, or may become, victims of abuse and stalking as a direct result of information gleaned through people search sites. 

“We write to express serious concerns about recent reports that data brokers are publicizing the location and contact information of victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, and stalking,” the senators wrote. “We have serious concerns that third-party data brokers play a role in revealing [a] protected address and providing access to personal information that can lead to continued abuse.”

The senators suggested the possibility of introducing measures to help people remove their addresses from data brokers like WhitePages and Spokeo, which market themselves as tools akin to digital phone books. The sites offer phone numbers, email addresses, physical addresses, and more. 

Easily accessible information

Getting information taken down from sites like these (of which there are dozens) can be time consuming and often require the submission of personal data via physical letters or even faxes. The fact that people search sites automatically scrape personal data complicates matters further. 

"One in four women and one in nine men experience intimate partner violence," the senators wrote in the letter, adding that victims “often are forced to relocate to a relative’s house to find safety.” 

“The availability of this data makes it difficult or impossible for victims to safely relocate with relatives,” they added. 

Klobuchar and Murkowski want the FTC to come up with a plan to work with other agencies to keep violent abuse perpetrators from accessing personal information. They also want to help educate victims about data broker services and offer resources on what to do if their information falls into the wrong hands. 

The senators also asked if the FTC has plans to prevent brokers from “collecting, buying, or selling lists of vulnerable populations.”

Take an Identity Theft Quiz. Get matched with an Authorized Partner.