“Who’s searching for you?”
MyLife.com asks this question to every visitor of its site, and according to a lawsuit filed in California on February 3, 2011, it lies about the answer. For example, one victim cited in the complaint allegedly registered as “sfsf sdgfsdgs,” then received an email from MyLife.com saying that seven people were searching for “sfsf sdgfsdgs.” Maybe this wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows if people were naming their kids “sfsf sdgfsdgs,” but something tells us they aren’t. Some celebrity baby names are pretty close in their weirdness, though.
Interesting (and perhaps surprisingly to those of you who haven’t realized yet that Google isn’t as pro-privacy as you thought), Google allows these types of ads on its search pages. People search sites can–and do–bid on names as keywords. Forbes’ Kashmir Hill wrote about this earlier this month:
Earlier this year, I noted that a background check company named Intelius had placed a Google ad on a search of my name. “We found Kashmir Hill,” it promised . . . [But] [t]he new policy makes clear that Google doesn’t care who places an ad on your name.
Seems like Intelius uses a similar, but slightly less aggressive, tactic as MyLife.
Users who are tempted to find out the mystery person searching for them can pay a low trial fee, $7.95, to unveil the secret. At least they think it’s $7.95. Suddenly they’re charged “roughly $90 to $190” and billed every month thereafter. The complaint says that this deceptive practice happens so often that Visa and American Express have”designated MyLife as a frequent offender whose charges are inherently suspect.”
The complaint also alleges that “[v]ictims of the ruse then find that MyLife hacks into their address books to target their friends, family and other contacts with spam solicitations stating that ‘someone’ is looking for them.” You read correctly: not only does MyLife.com overcharge you with hidden fees and pretend that people are searching for you when they’re not, but they spam your contacts list, too. According to the complaint, “This starts the cycle anew by priming the pump with a fresh crop of victims that MyLife tricks with false solicitations, overbills, and hacks.”
The plaintiffs allege violations of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act and the Unfair Competition Law and seek to attain class action certification. We’ll keep you posted on whether that succeeds. If you were one of the people duped, you may be compensated for what happened to you.
MyLife.com is part of a network of sites: it used to be Reunion.com, it shares a database with Wink.com, and it’s affiliated with Classmates.com, which is now MemoryLane.com. Facing similar charges of deception in 2010, Classmates.com settled for $9.5 million. Still, that amount is an afterthought to a company that boasted in November 2010 that it is now registering more U.S. users per month than both LinkedIn and Twitter.
How Abine sees MyLife and User Privacy
We have our own qualms with MyLife here at Abine. First, they’re a major pain to remove people from: they’re the only major people search website that requires that you call them to delete your listing. (Check out our opt-out page to learn how to remove yourself from MyLife, as well as many other big people search databases).
Second, they continually republish listings that we’ve already deleted. They carefully choose their words when we call, making sure to keep calling them “public record listings.” “Oh, I see a LinkedIn profile and a Facebook profile,” they’ll say, as if it’s common sense that your social networking information will be scraped and aggregated and sold on a completely different website to strangers. Sometimes we’ll remove a “standard” listing, only to find several new ones pop up from these “public records.” Call us old-fashioned, but when we take the time to call you up and request that you delete a listing, we expect it’ll be gone forever.
We will say this about MyLife, though: the people who answer their phones are extraordinarily friendly. We know they’re just doing their jobs and they’re not the problem, and they do a damn good job at customer service. Hopefully they’ll be able to find other uses of their people skills when MyLife goes down in flames. Fingers crossed.
Have you had an experience with MyLife.com? Good? Bad? Let us know in the comments section below.