Is your date a 'stud or dud?' Ask your phone
WIBW.com, Doug Gross, November 28, 2009
(CNN) -- If that dreamy blind date seems too good to be true, or the guy at
the bar with a martini and a pencil-thin moustache looks a little sketchy, the
truth about them -- or at least some of it -- could be found on your phone.
Designers at a pair of companies say their new applications for smartphones can
tell you in real time whether someone is married or divorced, has a criminal record,
has filed for bankruptcy or has any number of potential red flags in their past.
Using Google to search for information on a prospective romantic partner is
standard practice for many single people in the digital age. But these new apps,
combined with the growth of smartphones and wireless networks, now allow for
quick background checks on the go, potentially before a date is even over.
The lighthearted iPhone apps Stud or Dud? and Are They Really Single? -- from
online information broker PeopleFinders -- have far-reaching potential for
convenient snooping, and not just on potential dates. Their makers say that
in today's society it's increasingly important to check out people's
"There are more and more strangers in people's lives," said Bryce Lane, president
of the PeopleFinders Network. "There's this digital awakening where people are
in online communities -- they're meeting people they don't have information on.
"We think that's a problem. Yes, there are a lot of opportunities to meet great
new people, but a lot of people are misrepresenting who they are."
Meanwhile, another data company, Intelius, is offering a similar app called
DateCheck for the Android and BlackBerry, with other platforms in the works.
Marketed with the slogan, "Look up before you hook up," the application has
such features as a Sleaze Detector, which checks for criminal offenses, and $$$,
which uses property ownership records to gauge someone's financial assets.
DateCheck offers some less-serious information, too. Its Interests feature
trolls for information on educational background, social networking activities
and professional history while Compatibility compares the subject's horoscope
and astrological sign with the user's.
With Stud or Dud? the user punches in as much information as they have on their
subject. Results can range from past addresses, real estate ownership and business
and professional licenses to bankruptcies, evictions, criminal records and what
the company calls "possible relationships."
Are They Really Single? scans marriage and divorce records.
Accurate searches also require a date of birth, which may be tricky to extract
tactfully from someone on a first or second date.
Lane said all information comes from public records that are available to anyone.
But PeopleFinders, which has been collecting data for more than 20 years from sources
all over the United States, pulls it all together into one database.
"We're hoping they're fun apps and they're helping you learn about the people that
you come into contact with," Lane said. "They're easy to use and we're pretty hopeful
that they're going to be popular."
Both PeopleFinders apps will only return results on people 18 or older.
Advocates of online privacy say they see some problems.
Paul Stephens, a director at consumer group Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, said the
main danger lies in thinking you've dug up dirt on someone when you've actually
found someone else.
"If you only have limited information about the individual, it's going to be culling
from various sources that may or may not [find] the person you're trying to
investigate," said Stephens. "You need to take the information with a grain of
While the iPhone apps are aimed at dating, the information is bound to be used in
other ways, he said.
"In the case of a person not dating somebody, it's not that big a deal," said
Stephens. "But we've had cases where somebody might not get a job because of an
inaccuracy [from online information brokers], so it does become a big deal."
He said his group, based in San Diego, California, would like to see more
organizations regulated by the same federal laws that monitor fair and accurate
Lane, whose PeopleFinders Web site offers detailed background checks on people
for a fee, said he's providing a public service by making legally available
information more accessible.
"We feel very strongly that it's educational, it's informative, it's actually
helping the public," he said. "It's what you don't know about people that could
potentially hurt you."
He said the applications clearly show when results include multiple people and
tell users that the more detail they provide, the more likely they will get an
Lane said anyone who asks can be removed from the company's database, but he
suggested that most of those who do have something to hide.
"Criminals ... of course they don't want this information out there," he said.
In a column on technology Web site Gizmodo, editor Rosa Golijan described the
PeopleFinders apps as fun and joked that it was depressing to find out how many
of her ex-boyfriends were "duds."
She also noted at least one apparent glitch, when Are They Really Single? told
her that a former high school sweetheart might be married to his grandmother.
(In fairness, the app did say it was unlikely.)
Golijan dismissed privacy concerns, saying most of the info on the apps could
be found "from a few clever Google searches."
"I don't think there's reason to panic about privacy due to this app," she said.
"The same information and searches have been available for a long time."