Is 192.com Britain’s most invasive website?
We’re constantly warned by security experts not to divulge detailed personal information about ourselves on websites. Well, now we don’t have to, because the recently revamped 192.com is doing it for you. And then selling it on for as little as 35p per record.
192.com collates information from various public records and databases – electoral rolls, phone directories, Companies House – and then packages them altogether in one convenient lump.
Simply type in someone’s name and their rough location and you’re near instantly presented with a staggeringly detailed record of that person. You’ll get their full name and address, their telephone number and age (if they have a record at Companies House). You’ll also get the full name of any other adults who live in their house, as well as details of how long they’ve each lived in the property (gleaned from the electoral roll) and how much the house is worth.
If any of the occupants are registered as directors at Companies House, you can get their director information, including company names, addresses and telephone numbers. So now you’ve got the full set of details for someone’s work and home.
Scroll down a bit and you’ll also find full details of the person’s neighbours, including their full names and addresses and telephone numbers. Why would anyone want such information for legitimate purposes? In case your elderly mother wasn’t answering her phone and you wanted to contact her friend next door, was the best reason 192.com could come up with when I asked them.
192.com insists none of this information is of any real use to fraudsters. “The sort of data we use here is not the data used to validate transactions of any sort,” Dominic Blackburn, new technology director at 192.com told me.
True, you might not be able to apply for a credit card in someone else’s name using just the information provided by 192.com, but it would certainly give you a pretty good head start. And as Davey Winder pointed out in our recent feature on ID theft, the more information you have on someone, the easier it is to hunt them down on sites such as Facebook, MySpace or personal blogs where you can get more. Combine the person’s birthday from their Facebook profile with their age from 192.com, for example, and you’ve got their date of birth.
The ease of such data harvesting techniques is why organisations such as the Government-backed Get Safe Online warns you not to reveal too much personal data online. “Be wary of publishing any identifying information about yourself. In particular things like: phone numbers, pictures of your home, workplace or school, your address, birthday or full name,” the site advises in its safe social networking section. Too late. 192.com’s done it for you.
Still the company insists it’s not compromising your safety. “If I was a fraudster I wouldn’t want to use a site like 192.com, because every search they perform is logged,” Blackburn told us. “We’ve been doing this for ten years, and we’ve never had any actual problems.”
TASTE OF ITS OWN MEDICINE
So, we decided to take 192.com at its word. If it’s not worried about the potential privacy implications of publishing such rich profiles, perhaps we should reveal what we managed to find about the man who runs the company.
Whilst Dominic Blackburn was demonstrating his new site to us, he used the profile of 192.com’s founder and CEO, Alastair Crawford, to demonstrate some of the site’s features. Using information gleaned from Mr Crawford’s 192.com profile, we’ve been able to build up a fairly detailed profile of his personal life, using only information and resources that are freely available on the web.
The first thing we learnt was that 40-year-old Mr Crawford lives at an address in Fulham, London, along with what we presume is his wife, in a property that was worth £495,000 when it was purchased in 2000. (Curiously, Dominic Blackburn used to live at the same address some years ago).
Using Google Street View, we’re able to get this detailed picture of Mr Crawford’s house, which clearly shows that he’s a Sky satellite customer (which might be useful information for someone attempting to steal his identity) and that his house is protected by a burglar alarm.
Which is probably just as well, because by looking up the director’s information on both him and his wife, they’re clearly busy people. He’s listed as a director of no less than three companies (Vouched Network Ltd, Wasabi Online Ltd and I-C D Publishing, the parent company of 192.com), while his 38-year-old wife is listed as a writer at Lexington Public Affairs Ltd and a broker at AMC Capital.
Entering both their names into a Google search produces his profile on social-networking site, Wasabi (which, as we know, he’s a director of). Here we can find the names of his friends, pictures of his holidays in Cyprus and Mexico and the rather unusual revelation that he went to the same school as the singer James Blunt (at this point, we’re not sure who we feel the most sorry for).
A quick search on Wikipedia reveals that James Blunt went to the Harrow School, and a subsequent search for “Alastair Crawford” and “Harrow School” produces a site listing one Alastair Crawford among the 1987 alumni – which roughly tallies with the age we gleaned from his 192.com profile.
So after not much more than 10 minutes, we’ve managed to discover Mr and Mrs Crawford’s age, home and work addresses, telephone numbers, photos of his home and holidays, details of his friends, his school and much more besides. And we’re bumbling amateurs, not professional identity thieves.
Mr Crawford might not be bothered about this information being public: I suspect you might be.