The Privacy BlogPrivacy, Security, Cryptography, and Anonymity

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The press release linked at the bottom of this post is for a new website called AddressSearch.com. While I normally ignore most of the PR blasts sent to this blog, this one seemed worth posting because of the interesting realities and conflicts it exposes.

The idea is that you can use their database to find and email people. Their database contains 68.8 million email addresses, a huge number but only a fraction of all US email addresses. Given that many such databases exist, it seems inevitable that someone would set up a service like this.

On the positive side, they are doing a few different things to try to minimize abuse. First, they are limiting users to 5 message per day (although it is not clear how that is enforced). Second, they provide some general address location information about all the name matches to make it more likely that you are going to email the correct person. Finally, they don’t actually give you the recipients email address.

This last step is the most interesting. They allow you to write your email in a web form, then send it for you without revealing the recipients address to you. Of course it will be possible to abuse this, but probably not in any way that is not already widely possible. I also assume that this company keeps copies of the emails and adds your name and return address to their database. This is about protecting recipient privacy, not sender privacy.

On the whole, I am not happy that such services exist at all. I use social networking sites to make contact with me by strangers possible but only in the manner of my choosing. I don’t want random people sending messages to my personal or work email addresses. Imagine a distributed attack by members of Anonymous or LulzSec all sending 5 emails each to some victim. Of course the odds are that any attacker would have little difficulty in discovering the victim’s address through other means and then would not have any effective limit to the number of emails sent.

This may also turn out to be an unfortunate service for people who share a name with a celebrity. Interestingly, for people the service finds where it does not have an email address in the database, a paid ad refers you to Intelius.com where you can pay a couple of dollars to get the real address without any privacy features.

At the end of the day, the good news is that this company is making a significant effort to pay attention to the privacy implications of their service.

First-Ever Free Email Directory With Added Privacy Protection — JACKSONVILLE, Fla., June 21, 2011 /PRNewswire/ —

 

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