The makers of the infamous ZabaSearch public search engine have decided to boldly go where millions have gone before -- into the realm of blogs.
As of Sept. 1, if a user searches for a particular name using the engine, they will find a link to the "ZabaBlog" underneath their target's listing. From there, they can post comments about this person as if it were an individual Web site or blog.
This sounds like a Web-enabled version of scrawling someone's name and phone number in a bathroom stall. It opens the door to sophomoric gossip, slander and calumny from ex-coworkers, ex-spouses, ex-lovers, and so on.
As a writer with About.com puts it, "[E]nabling users to write and post blogs about other individuals is so junior-high. 'Hey, folks! We'll give you the ability to pass notes about Clarice and her weird hair follicle problem; plus, you can even look up her address and phone number and prank call her. You'll just be the coolest.'"
Not to mention that this is a publicly accessible search engine. If a potential employer is scrolling through your records and sees things like "Alvin is a loudmouthed braggart who disrupts the workplace constantly," they'll definitely think twice before tapping you for a job, no matter if the comments are true or not.
Now, whether or not Alvin is a loudmouthed so-and-so is not the point. The point is that this service isn't part of ZabaSearch's paid background check. It's right there on the site for anyone to access, free of charge.
This could open the service to charges of libel and harassment, depending on the nature of the content. It's one thing to post personal opinions on a Web site or blog, even one of a public nature. It's another to post personal opinions on a public records database.
David Lazarus of the San Francisco Chronicle commented that "the Los Angeles company is blazing a trail into new territory by complementing its free-of-charge aggregating of personal data with an opportunity for others to comment on people who aren't public figures."
You can attempt to get your information removed from ZabaSearch, but as ConsumerAffairs.com has previously reported, getting your records removed is a time-consuming process that can leave you vulnerable to identity theft.
If you see your profile filled with derogatory comments and insults, remember that blogs enjoy the First Amendment's protection of speech, and the best defense is a good offense. Post some true, non-defamatory comments of your own and make sure readers know that what's being said about you may be false or inaccurate.
Remember, while ZabaSearch may be able to shield itself from libel charges, you can go after the person who vilifies you -- and you can subpoena ZabaSearch's records to find out who that person is, if necessary. You'll need an aggressive, experienced litigator who knows libel law, not someone who normally does real estate closing.
ZabaSearch was founded by businessman Nicholas Matzorkis and lawyer Robert Zakari in February of 2005. The founders have worked together on several Internet business ventures, including ZabaSearch's predecessor PeopleData, and U.S. Search.com.
Both are notable for their connection to the Heaven's Gate cult, whose members committed mass suicide in 1997. Matzorkis employed many members of the cult at his Web design firm, and Zakari represented one of the survivors while he tried to gain the rights of the estate and make a movie about the cult's demise.