As an Intelius employee, I rarely write about our products on this blog for obvious reasons (if they’re not obvious enough, see my disclosure statement for details). With my conflicts-of-interest clearly on my sleeve, I’m making an exception for TrueRep.
I simply think that TrueRep represents a new category of personal analytics within online reputation management. It aims to give you fine-grained awareness and control of public information about you. Your reputation lies at the intersection of the public information available about you and how others perceive that information. You have little say over the latter. But you should be the first to know about your own public information, not the last. The idea behind TrueRep is to give you this awareness and control.
Beyond just detailing the virtues of TrueRep, I thought it might be interesting, for the more privacy wonkish among us, to discuss a de facto stab at Privacy by Design. It turns out that “the community” both inside and outside Intelius had (and is having) a profound influence on TrueRep. So, here’s a glimpse of the TrueRep story so far.
I Can See Myself
A key confirmation of the TrueRep vision came while I was attending a PrivacyCamp unconference in May 2010. After the day’s work of exploring privacy technology, data portability, and privacy rights, we adjourned for happy hour (and more discussion of privacy technology, data portability, and privacy rights).
Over a happy hour beer, I got to talking to Sally Applin, a senior UX designer and social anthropologist. Years ago, Sally noticed that successful software products seemed to contain a combination of “voyeurism and narcissism,” as people not only liked to look at others, but at themselves as well. As she explained this to me, Sally observed that the products from Intelius seemed to be more voyeuristic — and had little appeal to those who were narcissistic and wanted to look at their own data. I think her comment ran along the lines of (and I’m paraphrasing), “Why does it cost me 50 bucks to see my own background check?” Touché, point taken.
Self-awareness of your own information is important. TrueRep offers a look at your own background check summary including address history, criminal records, and civil suits.
When I joined Intelius in September 2008, I went on a listening tour of some privacy advocates to better understand their concerns. One of those privacy advocates was Cindy Southworth, Vice President of Development & Innovation at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
In discussing what Intelius could do to better serve Cindy’s at-risk community, she pointedly asked “How about getting my women out of your data?” Point taken, and we got to work on Cindy’s request.
As we began to work through the details, challenges emerged. Victims of domestic violence generally don’t like to be on any list for any reason, and distribution of login PIN codes proved unwieldy to a network of hundreds of local shelters. Cindy suggested that it would be best to simply allow removal of the latest contact information with, of course, no indication that anything was removed. Quite brilliant.
The latest contact suppression feature has three advantages. First and foremost, it provides more safety because, without the latest contact info, the address trail runs cold, frustrating any stalking offender. Second, a full opt-out removal from the Intelius people search results would just force the offender to a competitive website to satisfy their search. Lastly (which elated the product guys), since this feature is offered to all users, it lives within the main product roadmap and doesn’t require any special product maintenance. The latest contact suppression feature is now offered to all TrueRep users and available under the TrueRep Privacy tab.
A Voice in the Wilderness
A friend of mine has a “criminal tresspassing” charge on his background check. He asked me if we could modify the offense description on his background check because it sounds pretty bad. He said it could be interpreted as something quite serious, like breaking-and-entering. As it turns out, he hopped the fence at a Rolling Stones show in the mid eighties. I told him we couldn’t change the description from how the county reports it. In exasperation he said, “It’s my report. Why can’t I have my side of the story heard?” Point taken.
TrueRep Remarks lets you weigh in on the records in your background check. So, when anyone pulls my friend’s rap sheet they’ll also see his take on a regrettable, but teachable moment, from his adolescent past. We’ve all got ‘em.
I think a key lesson to be drawn from the TrueRep product arc is that you can learn from everyone — your customers, colleagues, friends, academics, advocates, regulators, and even your toughest critics. On the frontier where social media meets real life, you grab wisdom wherever you can find it.
TrueRep is just getting started, but this 360-degree, personal analytics view of your own public information is profoundly important. It gives you a view on how others view you. It forms the basis of reputation. It’s the reality check we’ve used for millennia to build trusted relationships. In many ways, it’s what makes us human.