In the pre-Internet era, we used reverse phone directories, and public records such as those maintained by tax assessors or voter registration officials to do this work.
Today, however, most people can be located relatively easily online. Any number of "people search" services exist that offer up addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and much, much more.
So much, in fact, that it might shock the average person to discover just how robust a digital profile of his/her online activity can be found with just a few short clicks.
Take Derek Kol's daughter-in-law, for example. She works as a District Attorney, prosecuting gang cases, and, in order to protect her from the dangers of intimidation/retaliation, like most D.A.s, she attempts to maintain complete anonymity online, and until recently she thought she had succeeded.
But, by using the real-time people search vertical, 123People, Kol was able to easily locate her online. Using the service, she then was able to remove all traces of her presence from the sites where she had previously been listed.
"It can be a very emotional thing when someone realizes how much personal information ia available about them online," Russell Perry, CEO of 123People. "It can be a real shock."
Perry's company, which he dubs the "phone book 2.0," aggregates data from 200 databases, and uses algorithmic search to provide "comprehensive and centralized people related information consisting of images, videos, phone numbers, email addresses, social networking and Wikipedia profiles and much more."
Perry says, "There's a lot of data out there about you, that you've lost control of, and you need to engage with it and get it back under your control." The basic service is free, but the company, which launched under two years ago, integrates ads and affiliate programs, and offers a premium search option as part of its strategy to monetize the content.
Perry says the company is already profitable, and that it is visited by 35 million unique visitors per month. Advertisers include the paid people search service Intelius, but also travel sites, automobile companies, and Amazon.
Premium subscribers include recruiters and corporate executives searching for better business connections.
Although 123People launched in New York, Perry and his team moved the company to Vienna, Austria, "because the people search space in the U.S. is crowded, whereas in Europe we face no real competition."
123People is finding radically different cultural expectations among Europeans and North Americans when it comes to guarding their online privacy. "Germans just don't want to found, period," he says, "whereas in the U.S. we generally want to be seen. Canadians are a little more sensistive about privacy than Americans."
The company has a bunch of expansion plans lined up for next year, with Mexico and Eastern European countries at the top of its list for its next market launches .