What is the Internet Saying About YOU?

Read this very good article on Public Records, by the Wall Street Journal Post. Learn how records about you are accessed, who accesses them, who sells the information and why. All of us need to learn to keep an eye on what we say and what is being said about us. Our good name is of utmost importance to those of us who value  honest, ethical, credible people. So take a good look at this article and see how the internet and personal data collection affects your good name. It’s an education.

Zombie Cookies and Other Scary Things

By Darity Wesley, Privacy Gurus

“I have never known a greater miracle, or monster, than myself.”
-Michel Montaigne

October is the month we usually open our homes to scary things like ghosts, goblins and other monsters. What you may not know is that a part of your home and office could always be open to some really scary zombies that live in your computer. These are what have come be known as zombie cookies. Sounds tasty at first but just wait until you hear the full story. A zombie cookie is a bit like a poisoned apple from a privacy perspective.
A cookie on your computer is a small bit of text stored on your browser by a website. It is the technology that is used to add things to your online shopping cart while remembering what is already in there; stores website preferences like your webmail homepage layout, and remembers your log-in information. This is the overt benefit of accepting cookies. The darker side of cookies is that they can be used to track your web browsing habits without you ever knowing about it.

Getting rid of unwanted cookies used to be fairly easy by working with your Internet setting options. Most of us routinely delete cookies and then rest assured they are gone. We now have come to know that the undead are among us as “Zombie Cookies: Night of the Living Dead.” No matter how many times you delete them, these cookies re-spawn, most often in Adobe Flash players (which are installed in about 98% of personal computers), and deliver behavioral information from our computers back to, up until recently, companies like ESPN, MTV, HULU, ABC, MySpace, NBC, YouTube and many others. Click through to this article to find out more about these dreadfully unappetizing cookies and how to get rid of them.

What the data collected from browsing does is develop an anonymous profile of a person that doesn’t include a name but can offer up the valuable demographic information that is the lifeblood of successful target marketing like age, tastes and hobbies, and general location. The upside of this kind of information is that you end up with advertisements that are relevant to you, which offers you access to new places and things that you may have not otherwise known. According to the recent Wall Street Journal article, children are extensively tracked more than adults, which isn’t too surprising as it follows along with how advertisers have worked with the other media over the decades like radio, movies and television. It is just much more sophisticated and definitive in reaching an appreciative audience. The article linked above has some great tips in it to help you protect yourself and your children, so please take a look at it.

People are paying attention to this issue. There have been several lawsuits filed by privacy attorney Joseph Malley this summer, and the Federal Trade Commission has had behavioral advertising on their radar for a couple of years and will advocate to enforce consumers’ decisions to avoid online targeting. The online advertising community wants to self-regulate so it looks like there will be much discussion on this topic in the near future.

There is so much to be aware and alert about in the privacy world these days. We have many choices to make in regards to what is our public life and what we want to keep private. Make sure you make your choices with intention, not by default, so you don’t have to go running off to your mummy screaming.

Darity Wesley is CEO and Legal Counsel for Privacy Solutions, Inc. a San Diego based consulting firm. You can always reach Darity at [email protected]

I Respect Your Privacy

I have recently sent out several emails about upcoming classes. I don’t hold classes all that often, and I have given up the expense of printing, folding, stuffing, addressing, stamping and mailing out course information in favor of email. A sign of the modern age, I guess. But I want everyone to know that I respect and value our relationship as friends, colleagues and customers. I do not and will not give out your information to anyone. A couple of recent well-thought-out and well-decided court cases brought this to mind.

In FenF, LLC vs. Healio Health, Inc, the court held that a provision from an agreement entered into between FenF and Healio Health that required Healio to transfer certain customer information to FenF was unenforceable, because doing so would result in a violation of Healio’s written privacy policy. While Healio agreed to transfer to FenF certain customer lists containing customer information it had promised in its privacy policy that it would not share its customers’ information with third parties.

The court reasoned that “[a]llowing Plaintiff to obtain that information without any type of notice to the customers would result in manifest unfairness to those customers, who are not a party to this action and may very well have conditioned their purchases from Healio Health based on that company’s promise to keep their customer information confidential.” Read More at Lexology

Privacy 101- The Information Exposure Explosion

Thanks to Darity Wesley, Privacy Gurus

“Despite the continuing expansion or even explosion of information, there will forever be limits beyond which the devices of science cannot lead a man.”
-Dr. June Singer

No matter what business you are in right now, there is no avoiding the fact that timely and accurate information is a prime commodity. As social networking is now a business imperative in the branding, sales and marketing aspects of your company, that information includes both facts and contacts that are interested in what you have to offer.

Here are a couple of varieties of data and their stated values by those who deal in information. A Multiple Listing Service-provided real estate listing, according to Ben Graboske of First American Core Logic as stated at the Houston Association of REALTORS® Real Estate Information Symposium in March 2010, can range in value from $1 for a brief one to $10 for an in-depth one.

If your business is working the social networking side of marketing and branding, it was recently calculated that the value of someone who ‘likes’ you on Facebook could be around $3.60.

Why is this information so valuable right now? Because there is so much data out on the Internet that is of suspicious origins with no guarantee of accuracy, that specifically verified facts from a reputable source are precious. It is worthwhile to protect your intellectual property from being stolen. Additionally, the information that we freely give via our social networking profiles used to be nuggets that marketers of the last century would spend countless hours and dollars gathering compiling.

The personal information we volunteer is morphing the definition of privacy for the next phase of technology. This new chapter is not so much about keeping things concealed (remember, if you want to maintain something as private, don’t post it on the Internet- once it is on the web, it is publicly available) as much as it’s about taking control of who gets to see what you post. In the 1960s and 1970s American artist Andy Warhol said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” People didn’t quite know how that would happen. Now, in an era of reality TV and YouTube, it appears that his prediction has come true.

The ever shifting terrain of privacy settings and cross-linking affinities on social networking websites is just another reason your Privacy Gurus® say to stay aware and alert. And, perhaps in the near future, we can next look forward to 15 minutes of privacy.

Darity Wesley is CEO and Legal Counsel for Privacy Solutions, Inc. a San Diego based consulting firm. You can always reach Darity at [email protected] or 619-670-9462.

It's up to YOU to Protect your Privacy

Here is an adaptation from Wesley Darity’s PrivacyGurus Newsletter. It is a good reminder that we often don’t think when giving out private information that could turn into a huge problem!

“…(It is important for) everyone from senior citizens to grammar schoolers to stay aware and alert. After all, the U.S. Constitution does not provide any explicit right to privacy so we have to take it into our own hands.

There are four general areas of privacy: bodily, territorial, communications, and information.

  • Bodily Privacy- We expect that our bodies are private, unless we as a society have agreed otherwise. For example, if we are in an airport security line and the metal detector beeps as we walk through the scanner. We expect to be searched. Or if we agree to having drug tests as a condition of employment. Or if we are renewing our driver’s license and agree as a condition of having that license to submit a thumb print.
  • Territorial Privacy- We expect that our homes are private. However, when we walk into a convenience store or up to the ATM, we know or should know that we are being video-taped. Or  we are at an intersection with a red light traffic camera there to record violators of the red light.
  • Communication Privacy- We expect that our personal conversations are private. But our expectation changes, or should change, if we are on a cell phone versus a land line. We expect that our letters signed, sealed and mailed with the postal service are private but our expectation changes, or should change, when sending email. It is not in any way “private”.
  • Information Privacy- We expect that our financial information at the bank and the health concerns we discuss with our doctors is confidential. However, anyone can watch what our work-out routines are at the fitness center and we expect that a number of people will know what we buy at the store. The act of purchasing is a public act, for which there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.

It is important for each parent/guardian of a school-ager, from elementary school through college, to provide them with ways to protect their privacy while out in the world. It is becoming as critical as not accepting rides from strangers.

Privacy Rule 1- You have rights. Know and let your child know that it is a good idea to say NO to requests for unnecessary information. Schools, athletic teams and pediatric offices routinely request Social Security Numbers for registration purposes. Before giving that information, always ask if it is this required and by whom. If you do not like the answer, then decline to provide the data. Remember: Social Security cards are not a form of identification.

Rule 2- Always Beware. The best way to protect your/ your child’s identity is by teaching them that documents containing their personal information, such as social security cards, bank statements, and passports, should be locked up in a safe place rather than carrying them around everywhere.

As always, be aware and alert as to the information you divulge online. Assume that none of it is confidential unless overtly stated in the website’s privacy policy. Know that your every move online may be tracked by sophisticated technology poised to collect your data.

Thanks, Darity, We will try to remember and pass on your good advice. Darity can be reached at [email protected] 


Scary Thought – Your DNA in a Pen

At the National Sports Collectors Convention held recently in St. Louis, Sports Placement Service unveiled the "first Sports DNA Pen." The pen is used to stop counterfeit autographs. Hair of a sports celebrity is gathered, then sent to a lab where "fragments of the player's DNA are isolated. It is then infused into ink to be used by a special pen." Each signature will include the signers' actual DNA, and is stamped with a special thumb print with the date and other information. What Next - using DNA for signatures on real estate docs? Hey, that info in the pen is a lot more valuable than your social security number, mothers maiden name, etc. That is WHO YOU ARE. What are the ramifications? Has anyone thought this out! I don’t think even a mortgage warrants use of my DNA. This is WAY too personal for me. 



Response from Darity Wesley at "I go nuts when I hear about anyone having anyone else's DNA for non-law enforcement situations.  How is that DNA when collected by the pen or ink company protected - it can make a person way more vulnerable than worrying about whether or not a signature is real...same for thumbprint...  






Iowa Stops Access to Online Public Land Record Documents

by Robert Franco, Source of Title

Reprinted with Permission


Website Stripped of Sensitive Information

The governing board of the Iowa Land Records Website chose to restrict all access to records maintained on the site after a public backlash led to concerns by lawmakers and residents alike. Last week, the site indicated that it would ignore the request of Governor Chet Culver to block access to the records because many contained sensitive information like Social Security numbers.

Yet, officials indicated that its previous actions had failed to reduce fears of identity theft and privacy concerns and, thus, suspending access to the records was necessary.

Visitors to the site discover a statement from the operators indicating that “…until further notice all document images are restricted and cannot be accessed through this Website.” Phil Dunshee, one of the site’s project managers, said in a press release that access to the records would be suspended indefinitely.

“Recorders sincerely regret the disruptive impact this will have on people in the real estate industry,” Dunshee said. “It’s really the last place they wanted to go, but at this point, I don’t really think they have any further choice.”

Despite providing useful information to real estate professionals, many expressed support for the actions undertaken by the site’s operators.

“As mortgage lenders, we are seeing more and more identity theft on credit reports, so it’s imperative that Social Security numbers be redacted from those old documents,” said Christy Allison, the president of Iowa Mortgage Association, in an interview with The Des Moines Register.

Culver and Michael Maurro, the secretary of state, both had their Social Security numbers listed in documents that were maintained on the Website. After learning this, Culver asked the site to remove his information and block access to documents containing people’s private information last week. The site attempted to block access to thousands of records that contained sensitive information after receiving his request, but apparently failed to adequately do so. Thus, the operators decided to shutdown all access this week.

B.J. Ostergren knows more about you than you think

From the Source of Title Blog, used with their permission.

Maybe you’ve never heard of B.J. Ostergren, but she knows a lot about you. She knows where you live and how much you pay to live there. She has your driver’s license number, your signature, credit card and bank numbers and she has your Social Security number. Likely as not, she has the goods on your parents and children as well. She gathered it all from government websites.

The Virginia Watchdog wants the state to stop displaying your private data online but a new law in Virginia says government agencies have an exclusive right to display private data contained in public records online. Now Ostergren is taking her battle to federal court.

Ostergren has gleaned from online government records the Social Security numbers of many prominent people — Jeb Bush, Colin Powell, Porter Goss and Tom DeLay among them — and posted the documents on her own Web site to demonstrate government’s failure to protect individuals’ privacy.

“I’m not going after the little guy, I’m going after people of prominence that could have some power to do something about this,” Ostergren said.

Ostergren’s website, advocates against making personal information available on the Internet. The website includes public records obtained by Ostergren from government websites that include the Social Security Numbers of public officials. By posting these documents, Ostergren hopes to illustrate the type of information available on government websites, and to prod officials to take action.

Perhaps most offensive to Virginia officials are the links Ostergren posts on her site that document just how easy it is to find documents containing Social Security numbers and other private data belonging to Virginia’s own legislators, judges and county officials.

In March, Virginia legislators reacted to Ostergren’s website by amending a state law prohibiting anyone except government agencies from posting private data online. Under the previous law, individuals were prohibited from disclosing Social Security numbers obtained from private sources, but millions of public records containing Social Security numbers and other private information are available in Virginia on the state’s own websites.

Government websites have become a rich source of data needed by terrorists, identity thieves and stalkers.

Experts say terrorism and identity theft go hand in hand. The al-Qaida training manual US troops found on a laptop computer in Afghanistan includes provisions for trainees to leave camp with five fake personas, says Judith Collins, an identity theft expert, who uses a copy of the manual to train law enforcement officials. Terrorists are regularly schooled in the art of subsisting off credit card fraud while living in the United States, Collins says. The manual also instructs would-be terrorists on the easiest way to find the information they need.

According to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, speaking on January 15, 2003, the al Qaeda training manual tells its readers, “Using public sources openly and without resorting to illegal means, it is possible to gather at least 80 percent of all information required about the enemy.”

The concept of document security by paid or free subscription to government websites has also proven deadly for at least two young women. Amy Boyer and Rebecca Schaeffer both lost their lives as a result of stalkers accessing their information through government websites. The 1989 murder of TV actress Rebecca Schaeffer resulted in the often-ignored National Driver Protection Act which makes it illegal for companies to buy driver records from state governments. Cases abound of government websites failing to protect constituents when publishing private data contained in public records online.

In an advisory dated August 8th, 2006, Ken Schrad, Director of Virginia’s Division of Information Resources announced that the State’s Bureau of Insurance Website published the Social Security numbers of every insurance agent licensed in the state. He advised the state’s 202,000 agents, many of whom sell identity theft insurance, to watch for any unusual activity on their bank or other financial accounts that might result from the massive breach.

Under the new law, Virginia citizens are prohibited from repeating the state’s mistakes by publishing copies of public documents containing Social Security numbers on private websites or Blogs. But the law allows Virginia’s “official” websites to continue trafficking in identities with almost complete abandon. Virtually anyone– anywhere in the world with an internet connection and twenty five dollars for a subscription to the county website may be granted remote online access to your Social Security number and other private data.

Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a lawsuit on Ostergren’s behalf in federal court in Richmond. Ostergren is challenging the law that targets her website on grounds it violates the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech.. She has launched a federal lawsuit that questions who if anyone, has the right to distribute your private/public papers online for the entire world to see. At issue is who has the right to traffic in your identity.

When Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine signed the bill on March 11, he and others touted the bill as an effort to curb identity theft, suffered by an estimated 9 million Americans each year. But even the lawmaker behind the bill (Sen. R. Edward Houck) acknowledged that stopping people like Ostergren from publishing the Social Security numbers — not protecting Virginians from identity theft — was the true goal of the legislation.

Ostergren says her tactic of bringing bold and personal awareness to elected officials has worked in other states, such as Vermont, New York, New Mexico, California, Ohio and Florida, where she has fought to get personal information removed from online records. Only in her home state have lawmakers responded by unanimously passing legislation making Ostergren’s tactics illegal and punishable by a $2,500 civil penalty.

Ironically, the questioned statute takes effect on July 1, the same date by which circuit court clerks across the state are required to make all land records available on the Internet. Land records consist of deeds and mortgage documents, but may also include legal judgments, such as divorce decrees and probate, that often contain Social Security Numbers and other personal information. The ACLU is seeking an injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing the law against Ostergren.

“The ACLU is an advocate for laws that prevent the government from allowing Social Security Numbers to appear on publicly accessible websites,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, “but when the government puts records online that do contain the numbers, it can’t then turn around and prevent the public from disseminating them.”

“Instead of the Virginia General Assembly dealing with the real problem of Social Security numbers being put on Web sites by circuit court clerks, they decided to target me because I posted theirs,” Ostergren told the Washington Examiner.

“This is a wrong-end-up law that attempts to conceal the fact that Virginia’s lawmakers have failed to prevent Social Security Numbers from being placed online in the first place,” added Willis. “If Social Security Numbers were removed from public records when they are placed online, there would be no need for this law.”

While Virginia already has a law requiring Social Security numbers to be redacted from documents posted on the Internet, the legislature failed to fund the privacy statute. Redaction efforts in other states have proven to be largely ineffective and extremely expensive.

The ACLU lobbied against the passage of Virginia’s new law prohibiting anyone except the government from posting Social Security numbers online and asked the Governor to veto it.

When she found out in 2002 that every locality in Virginia would begin posting personal information online, she started The Virginia Watchdog from her Hanover County home.

The lawsuit, which alleges that the law violates Ostergren’s First Amendment rights, points out that shutting down Ostergren’s website will do nothing to protect Social Security Numbers, since all of the documents on the site are also available on government websites. In the 1989 case The Florida Star v. B.J.F., the Supreme Court observed that “where the government has made certain information publicly available, it is highly anomalous to sanction persons other than the source [government websites] of its release.”

Today millions of people from all over the world routinely search and seize our most sensitive documents from government websites. The records can then be used by international criminals to take your property, homes – even your life. Surely this wasn’t what the framers of the constitution had in mind when they promised in the Fourth Amendment, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”

ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg is providing legal representation to Ostergren. A copy of the ACLU’s complaint can be found online at

Interested parties can Contact Kent Willis or Rebecca Glenberg at 804/644-8022

Title Insurers Insure Closings

In the midst writing the 2nd edition of Title Insurance for Real Estate Professionals, I recognize how things have changed in the last couple of years for the title insurance industry. At the moment, I am working on closings.

Title Underwriters have been forced by demands from the market to begin insuring the closing process, a dangerous and expensive endeavor in today’s market. This was never part of title insurance. It is not something that was accrued for in planning and reserving money for claims. And where does closing liability end? Will closers and title companies be sued because someone claims they didn’t understand their loan documents – or worse yet, say the lender was in cahoots with the title company and closed the loan for the title premium and fees? Similar to the recent lawsuit by a buyer that they paid too much for their house because they were advised to do so by their real estate agent.

And the liability becomes worse – over the past years, closings have become more and more complicated. New types of loans—variable-rate, adjustable-rate, balloon mortgages, growing equity mortgages, interest-only loans, construction financing, reverse-annuity mortgages, and others—have moved into the market. These complex documents must be explained to the borrowers, a very difficult task, particularly evident is the lack of understanding of these documents in the real world, where foreclosures have run rampant the last years and the reality of the documents hits home.

Complications of closing also include dealing with heavy legislation pertaining to Federal Laws such as the Patriot Act, Truth in Lending (TIL) laws, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) and the Gramm-Leach Bliley Act (GLBA) dealing with privacy rules and closing. New local and federal legislation related to the sub-prime market and poor quality loans are making, and will continue to make, closings even more difficult by requiring additional documentation.

Independent “signing agents,” which are a fairly new phenomenon in the U.S., are unknowns in closing. Signing agents typically have no relationship with a title underwriter. They go to a home, bringing the documents with them for closing (frequently used in re-finance transactions.) Some signing agents see themselves strictly as notaries public, who witness signatures with no responsibility other than verifying the identity of the signers. Other signing agents are very knowledgeable about the documents and may thoroughly explain them – but do they have errors and omissions coverage? What if an error is made, who is responsible?

Is it appropriate for title companies to give a Closing Protection Letter, in effect insuring the closing? The State of New York says NO. It has specifically prohibited the practice in NY, citing the fact that the practice is a form of insurance, and potential claims are not being accrued for. What do you think?

Info On Home Closing

Home Closing 101: An Educational Initiative of the American Land Title Association