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Cyber-spying: Info accessible in seconds

July 18, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
There is lots of information online, but finding what you need when you need it can be a big, if not impossible, task. Whether you're trying to reconnect with a lost love, looking to dig up dirt, or searching for that one piece of information for a business deal, a new generation of Web sites promises to do all the work for you.

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Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says there's been a recent growth of search engines that do specialty types of information, including everything from home values to political fundraising.

"Zaba Search" scours public records from agencies all over the country, and it even identifies your relatives. "Spock" and "Wink" link to professional and personal information, including profiles on social networking sites. Tech experts say all the information on these sites is public. The difference now is it's one-stop shopping.

"That's really the main value -- that it collates and collects and organizes all sorts of information about people into one place," Tien said.

PC Magazine's Lance Ulanoff says, "And it's all accessible within seconds, so it's really changed the way people gather information."

"Spokeo" is among the newest aggregators. It partners with dozens of social networks. Just join, plug in your e-mail, and it searches your address book. Whether your friends post on one or lots of different social sites, the updates show up on a single page.

Remember, if you're keeping track of people, they may be keeping tabs on you as well. While you can't control all of the information out there about you, Tien says, "The information, you put into a social networking site can lead you to end up having information about you exposed that you thought never would be."

Not only to site members, but to the general public. The caution goes for shopping sites too.

There are some things you can do to protect yourself.

"Almost always you will find a public versus private option, but if you don't select that, the default could be public," Ulanoff said.

If you don't edit the settings, profiles, pictures, videos, something as simple as your shopping "wish list" may be out there for all eyes to see.

"If I feel uncomfortable for some reason, then I would adjust those privacy settings," said Ming Chaing.

Chaing said he likes the one-stop method because it's a simple way to stay in the loop with his friends.

"A lot of times we are very busy with our own lives, and it's hard to keep track of what they've been up to," he said.

Most of the sites offer up information for free, while others require you to pay a fee ranging from $3 to $50 to see more extensive results.

Public records search:

People finders:

Real estate service:

Social networking sites:

 

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