A US Web firm is preparing to launch an ambitious Internet search engine that it hopes will eventually track down the names of the world’s six billion people. Spock.com says it has already indexed 100 million people and is adding a million names per day on the invitation-only, beta version of its website, which will be made available to the public in a few weeks.
The emergence of people search engines has sparked concerns over privacy rights. The sites Wink.com and Zoominfo.com already have 200,000 and 37,000 profiles, respectively. These websites seek to carve their own territory in the search engine world dominated by Internet giant Google, which already has the distinction of becoming a verb, as anyone who has “googled” information would know. “We are a search engine organizing information about people,” spock.com co-founder Jay Bhatti said.
“How Google allows you to type anything and gives you a Web document result, we give you results around people,” he said. “That’s how we differentiate ourselves from other search applications, because we are solely focused on people.” The founders of spock.com, which has been under development since 2006 in Redwood City, California, hope the website will eventually provide a search result for everyone in the world.
To index individuals, spock.com scours social networking websites such as MySpace, Friendster and Bebo. But it also allows Web surfers to add information about individuals to help spock.com compile full profiles.
“We try to index people, but the machine is not enough to understand all the data,” Bhatti said. “That’s where the community comes in. As the user of Spock, you will be able to add keywords, pictures, and to upload pages about people.”
Spock.com website has a system to filter out false information that could destroy the website’s credibility, Bhatti said. “Your profile will go through a strict process based on quality insurance to make sure it’s not a fake profile,” he said.
Each spock.com user will have an “authority ranking” that can go down if the information provided for a profile is rejected. “If you start bad behaviour or if people start to pull down what you put on Spock, that authority ranking will go lower and it might get deleted over time,” Bhatti said.
Spock.com, which has secured $7 million (Rs28 crore) in financing by venture capital firms, will be available for free and will make money through advertising.
Amid concerns over privacy rights on the Internet, Bhatti said spock.com allows a person to have his or her profile removed and ask the website to determine where the information came from. Internet privacy rights groups are concerned about the possibility of abuse with these websites.
“More and more of our lives appear online or are being organized online,” said Derek Slater, an activism coordinator at Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy rights group. “It can be very annoying to see so much of someone online, potentially without one putting that (information) online oneself,” Slater said.
People search engines have little to worry about, legally. As third parties, they are not held accountable under US law for putting on their websites information provided by others.
“People are posting information about themselves, so they should expect it can be found,” Slater said. “They have to be aware that it’s more easy to store and retain information for a long period of time.”