In early January 2017, an image circulating on Facebook cautioned “LEOs” (i.e., law enforcement officers), that a particular web site allows criminals to look up the personal information of police officers for nefarious purposes:
The alert was posted on the Facebook page “Survive the Streets: A Page for Cops” with the following warning:
This is legit. We’ve tested it, my address was in the search, and some of my family was connected to the profile. The amount of info and the accuracy of it is terrifying. Opt out instructions below.
The web site in question, FamilyTreeNow.com, allows users to look up a person by first and last name. The site then pulls up information about the named person obtained from public records, such as age, month and year of birth, immediate family members and “associates,” and past and current addresses. The searches are provided free of charge.
The site does not specifically categorize members of law enforcement, but of course any user who knew enough about a particular police officer (such as name and hometown) could potentially retrieve more information about that person.
Persons whose information appears on the web site can use the “opt out” to block their information from being displayed to users, and our tests so far indicate that that option does work. However, as we have noted about similar search services in the past, your personal information will still be available through the underlying public record sources used by FamilyTreeNow (and others). Those third-party records will still exist and will remain publicly accessible, so the same information provided by FamilyTreeNow will remain available to others, either working on their own or using information aggregators similar to FamilyTreeNow.
In May 2017 a similar panic spread via e-mail and Facebook, involving a site called TruePeopleSearch.com (or simply “TruePeopleSearch”):
true people search
This is circulating on Facebook…
Get on this site and delete yourself!!!! I guarantee you’re on it!!!! It had almost EVERY bit of my relatives listed plus associates and phone numbers!! These are only a few of the pages I copied to show you!!!!!! Wouldn’t have known unless I saw a friend post about this. GO TO “PRIVACY” AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE AND TAKE YOURSELF OFF!!!!! truepeoplesearch.com
The link is accurate – it takes you to a page to fill in your name. A list comes up showing my name and other information (past addresses, phone numbers, relatives…)
What is the point of this? Is it wise, or safe to remove yourself from this?
Within months of the viral FamilyTreeNow panic, TruePeopleSearch flooded Facebook with the same warnings and tips. In short, removing your personal information from display by Internet aggregators isn’t a one-time deal, but rather more like a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole: You might swat down an aggregator site or two, but more of them will inevitably pop up.