Your Life, for Sale

It's scary how much of your personal data lives on the web.

by Peopledata (left); City of Cambridge

Peopledata (left); City of Cambridge

Everything I needed to stalk myself, I bought on the Internet for 65 bucks. I started with a Google search--instant background checks--and hit the first link it returned, people data.com. I entered my credit card info, and the next day
I got an e-mail containing my last 10 addresses, as well as those of my parents and sister. I got names and phone numbers of neighbors, landlords and roommates. "This is nuts!" I yelled to my girlfriend. (Another company's search yielded an ex-girlfriend's address. Oops.) Clicking onward, I bought an aerial photo of my neighborhood [above left]. On my town's Web site, I found a photo of my house [above right], along with its fundamentals--the size of the decks, the porch, the basement.

OK, so buying Social Security numbers has become virtually impossible. But what I got was a start. Think of it this way: I meet a woman in a bar. Despite my good looks, she finds me less appealing than a stale cracker. She goes to the bathroom. I chat up her friends. "Hey, what's your friend's name? I could swear I went to high school with her." Maybe I get lucky and find out her name. I log on and buy
her address. I get data on her house, learning where to hide so that I won't be noticed. I
follow her to work, even camp out at her parents' home one Sunday. Of course, the thought of such a scheme makes me feel ill. But with stalking cases piling up faster than you can type "Help! Someone's reading my e-mail," it's a scenario worth worrying about.