The term “doxx” (or “dox”) means “search for and publish private or identifying information about (a particular individual) on the Internet, typically with malicious intent.” The site in question was written up by The Washington Post, otherwise it would be blessedly consigned to Internet anonymity.
Yet, for no apparent reason other than to spill some ink, they chose to headline an article “You’ve probably never heard of this creepy genealogy site. But it knows a lot about you.” Well, duh, now everyone’s heard of it.
It’s not a genealogy site. Some people in my family are serious genealogy buffs, and they all use ancestry.com, which is above-board (if you’re into that stuff). The site FamilyTreeNow.com is simply a mashup of publicly-available databases, cross referenced for maximum exposure.
If you want to get someone’s address, history, and family member names, the site delivers, along with a convenient link (called a “permalink”) you can cut and paste to let everyone else know what you’ve found. It’s nothing more than an invitation to harassment.
I’ve seen some creepy public databases before. Try signing up for FedEx Delivery Manager and watch the questions it comes up with to verify that you are you. Stuff only you would know, and how in blue blazes did they get it? Public databases have lots of mojo when the right searches are made. If you really want to be creeped out, ask an insurance agent what they can find about you (or don’t). Or ask someone with a Lexis-Nexis account.
WaPo tried to reach the site’s founder (who is conveniently not listed in his own site) using LinkedIn and California public records for the company, but, lo and behold, he didn’t respond to their requests. The domain is registered through a Toronto-based privacy company.
But Weirich, or any representative of the site, did not respond to an emailed request for comment to multiple addresses associated with FamilyTreeNow or Weirich’s other listed businesses. One listed phone number for a business associated with Weirich went to a generic Google Voice voice mail; additional phone numbers listed for Weirich appeared to be disconnected. Over the course of Tuesday, Weirich’s LinkedIn page and FamilyTreeNow profiles also became inaccessible to the public.
I’m not going to go so far to suggest that the government needs to shut down every site that relies on public databases. These databases are useful for various purposes. But having free and unfettered access to search again and again through literally anyone’s records is a public danger.
For example, Erick’s example of campaign contribution disclosure, coupled with a doxxing site could yield a terrible result of personal harassment.
Sites like this, set up and left for years (as apparently Weirich did) to simply run and allow people to find other people’s private information, are a public danger. Whether lawmakers decide to act on it is a matter of public policy (I’d err on the liberty side).