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Jigsaw's Data Mining Sparks Privacy Debate

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Jigsaw's Data Mining Sparks Privacy Debate

Jigsaw's Data Mining Sparks Privacy Debate

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How would you feel if you gave someone your business card at a private meeting and then a few days later your information shows up on a Web site? Really creepy or really cool? Here's tech contributor Xeni Jardin with a story on

XENI JARDIN: Jim Fowler,'s shaven-head founder, has been called Dr. Evil and portrayed as a diabolical villain who wants to get rich selling information about you that you thought was private. But Fowler says he started Jigsaw to help professionals reach each others more efficiently.

Mr. JIM FOWLER (Founder, Jigsaw): It's a database of business contact information, in effect what you would find on a business card minus any non-business information. So mobile numbers and non-business e-mail addresses are not allowed.

JARDIN: Think Wikipedia meets eBay meets Rolodex. Jigsaw is a membership Web site, and members either pay $25 a month to get 25 listings off the system or agree to add 25 contact listings to get 25 other contacts back. The more contacts you add, the more points you score and the more contacts you can then download. Fowler doesn't see anything invasive about his business.

Mr. FOWLER: People hand out business cards, they register for trade shows, they drop their business cards in fish bowls at their local deli to win a lunch. The whole point is - is that information does get out there, and most people are shocked to find how many databases they actually live on.

JARDIN: But plenty of people have been shocked to find out that they're on Jigsaw's database. Michael Arrington is editor of TechCrunch, a news blog about Silicon Valley startups like Jigsaw. He remembers when he first heard about the company.

Mr. MICHAEL ARRINGTON (Editor, TechCrunch): It was actually at a big dinner party, and it got to the point where the entire - probably 12 people at the dinner party were engaged in a conversation of whether or not, you know, this company was evil or not.

JARDIN: Some Jigsaw critics think the site's wrong for not giving people a choice before their information is added. Others believe Jigsaw is no worse than traditional data brokers and is helpful, because it points cold-calling salespeople and recruiters to the exact people they want to reach. No more bugging receptionists or blindly dialing through phone trees.

Jigsaw's business model isn't against the law, Arrington admits, but he thinks it should be.

Mr. ARRINGTON: This information, I think, is quasi-personal, even if it's technically, legally speaking, you know, business information. And that's where I think, you know, we start to run into some problems. And the law clearly hasn't caught up with those societal, cultural changes.

JARDIN: Arrington and others have complained that they weren't able to delete information about themselves from Jigsaw. CEO Fowler says the company has a policy forbidding personal contact information and removes it from entries on request. The company also removes contacts that were uploaded in violation of a legal agreement, like an employee contract or a restraining order. But University of Southern California researcher Danah Boyd says Jigsaw is a natural, if awkward, evolution from sites like MySpace and Friendster.

Ms. DANAH BOYD (Researcher, University of Southern California): One of my favorite commentaries that I saw in the blogs was, well, you know, at least on Jigsaw you know that your friends are worth five points.

JARDIN: Jigsaw does allow members to provide instructions on how they do or don't want to be contacted. Jim Fowler's own entry warns users not to call his cell phone. Still, Danah Boyd says the company can't enforce those warnings, and those guidelines are cold comfort to people who didn't want to be in Jigsaw in the first place.

Ms. BOYD: If Jigsaw makes the assumption that anything that is on its site is public data, then other people then read that as that is public data, and all of a sudden I don't actually get to control how access to me is managed.

JARDIN: Opening up that access is making Jigsaw a busy Web site. CEO Fowler says there are now over 100,000 registered users and over 4 million contact entries, with many more on the way. For NPR News, I'm Xeni Jardin.

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