‘Trustfuse’. The very name of it suggests the real motivation behind it – that the days of personal anonymity are fast coming to an end – but don’t worry, you can trust us, it’s all under control! Yet if you scratch the thin veiled veneer of trustworthiness, and see the heart behind the mouth – you quickly realise it is no wonder they felt the need to hide and take their site down this week. For those who don’t have a clue and not yet familiar with this brand, allow me to enlighten you. Trustfuse is the commercial arm of three divisions under the name of Rapleaf, whose tagline is “Online reputation lookup – manage your reputation and privacy”.

According to their own website “Rapleaf empowers people to manage their privacy on the web by alerting them to the public sources of personal information and by providing fine-grained control over which parts of their information are made available via the Rapleaf website.” All very noble and grand indeed. A one-stop-shop whereby I can control who sees what about me online, a kind of online shredder if you will.

That is until you realise what control you are giving Rapleaf, everytime you pass over your hotmail login details or such like. Not only am I gaining control over my data, ‘”Rapleaf lets you retrieve the name, age and social-network affiliations of anyone, as long as you have his or her e-mail address.” Armed with secure servers, Rapleaf says it may collect or maintain such data as the person’s e-mail address, physical address and phone number, “demographic, psychographic/interests, friend map/network, Web sites used and other social Web data.” It shows links to people’s information on Amazon.com wish lists, Bebo, Facebook, MySpace, Classmates, Hi5 and Friendster, among other sites.’*

Bank account details for cross-checking credit worthiness of purchases – or medical history for insurance purposes – to be honest I couldn’t find specific details on their site, but am sure the same principle applies. Sounds improbable until you realised one of Rapleaf’s investors include Facebook backer and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel – so yes, there is a vested commercial community interest behind the scenes.

Rapleaf Badge But at least the front-end is friendly. You even get a shiny Rapleaf badge to let the world know you are part of the club and not to be messed with! It’s in the shape of a pretty green leaf, not a yellow star of David, in case anyone is wondering.

Rapleaf’s practices have come under question, finally, as it appears they may be ‘violating the terms of service of MySpace and Facebook by linking to people’s profile pages and scraping data from the sites for commercial purposes.’

*See article on ZDNet:
People search engine Rapleaf revises privacy policy

Surprised has taken this long to figure it out, when Trustfuse’s previous site brazenly told the business world under the admirable title “People data enrichment for better business decisions” that they can “perform(s) deep searches on people to enrich data on your users,” which can be used for marketing purposes.

But this is not your average behaviourally targeted advertising platform, Trustfuse goes one stage further, it uses this profiling to “provide the necessary framework you need in order to learn about new customers, better market to these customers, and build in analytics to better predict buying behavior.” To quote ZDNet, ‘In other words, TrustFuse packages information culled from sites into a profile and sells the profile to marketers.’

Your personal information is hot property, on one hand being duped under threat of terrorism and personal identity theft to shred everything, but on the other, being sold to the highest bidder with seemingly uncapped consequences as we march unknowingly into this open auction to monitor everything you say and do in the interests of commercial greed. Especially when “it is more profitable to be ethical” says the signoff on the bottom of Rapleaf’s site.

Exactly who is so brave in this brave new world?!

“Hang your clothes on the peg, and please remember your number” the guard said calmly as he shuffled the families into the newly installed showers at the end of the line…