A couple of days ago I was talking to a colleague who mentioned that he'd been on the receiving end of a lot of cold calls from salespeople recently. The last few times he's asked where the caller got his information from, and on each occasion the answer was Jigsaw.com.
Neither of us were familar with the Jigsaw.com site so we had a good look around.
If you're not familiar with it then you might want to go and look yourself up. It's a website with a massive database of contact details aimed at sales and marketing types. They offer incentives for their users to upload, maintain and share your contact information.
The information about you includes your name, job title, work phone number and email address. The information is for sale, it's public and it's published without your consent.
Anything that makes me more likely to get a cold call is a "Bad Thing" - so I was initially appalled to find I was listed. I had read somewhere that it was impossible to remove yourself from jigsaw.com. It's not, it's actually quite slick.
In fact if you feel like removing yourself from Jigsaw right now I can wait...
Done that? Great. Let's carry on..
So I don't like Jigsaw much, but it wasn't really the website that was bothering me.
They aren't creating anything new, they're just making it easier for sales people to do what they would do anyway.
What was getting under my skin was that I had no way to react to the individual who had been rewarded for feeding the cold callers my phone number. The website did actually say who last updated my record but it only gave their username.
If somebody is going to upload my phone number and make it publicly available then I want to see their phone number in return. They are the people I'd like to call up at 11pm and tell them they've lost my business for life.
I decided to join Jigsaw and see if I could get the offending user's details as a full member. Unfortunately I couldn't but, by means of a free coupon, I did manage to 'pay' for the contact details of Garth Moulton the co-founder of Jigsaw.
I sent him an email asking why the offending user's privacy was more important to him than mine. His reply was:
Jigsaw is a community of sales and marketing professionals that are essentially pooling their contact knowledge for the betterment of the entire membership. Members are anonymous to each other so competitors and partners alike can share the same information.
So privacy is important, but only in so far as it gets the wheels greased.
Whilst I was searching for more about the user who uploaded my contact details I came across a number of other users who have been prolific contributors to the database.
One of them, eden123 has uploaded about 700,000 business contacts in the last 3 years! If they're working normal business hours then they're uploading one contact every 40 seconds.
That's so busy that it made me wonder if eden123 isn't actually a bot. That's a doubly disappointing thought; not only are bots prolific, but they also don't care if you phone them at 11pm.
In hindsight it's obvious that information about us is being traded behind our backs and if it isn't being harvested and aggregated by bots yet then it's only a matter of time..
Trying to prevent the harvesting and exchange of this information or to control the personal information that you leak into the world is probably impossible. The AOL 'leak' a few years ago was a case study in how detailed personal profiles of individuals can be harvested from data apparently shorn of personal information. And that was just one source of data.
It would help if sites like Jigsaw were obliged to follow the basic double opt-in system used with email so I could approve it if somebody tries to list me. That would probably be commercial suicide for Jigsaw and even if they wanted to do it they would probably be prevented from contacting me by anti-spam legislation ironically.
Since your personal information is only worth something if it's accurate maybe the best defence in the future won't be trying to avoid publishing anything about yourself at all but to go completely the other way and flood the web with personal disinformation.
Personally I also want a way to redress the social inequity of having people, protected by anonymity, trade my personal information. I guess the Web 2.0 way would be to create another website to expose their anti-social behaviour.
Maybe I'll write my own bot to find out who they are.
If you'd like to remove yourself from Jigsaw just search for yourself and verify your email address.