Forbes columnist Kashmir Hill recently Googled her name, and to her surprise found an advertisement in the search results from Bellevue-based Intelius. That set the reporter on a quest to find out why, digging into Google’s privacy policies and asking Intelius why it would want to buy text ads using individual names.

Interestingly, Hill finds that Google’s AdWords policy strictly “prohibits the use of proper names when promoting people-finder sites, doctor and lawyer investigation sites, and detective sites.”

So, why does Intelius  — which has found itself in hot water over online privacy issues in the past — pay for Google (and Bing) ads on individuals? The company, which operates an online background check service,  sees it as an effective way to promote its offerings.

I was curious about the practice so I actually just Googled my name. No Intelius ad appeared. Interestingly, Forbes points out that Intelius picks names at random, but typically singles out distinctive names. John Cook is pretty common. But my GeekWire colleague, Todd Bishop, must have a unique enough ring to it since the Intelius ad appears when you search his name.

I was also curious about the privacy implications of the ads. After all, Google’s policy seems pretty clear cut.

Jim Adler, chief privacy officer at Intelius, tells GeekWire that they’ve taken steps to ensure that the strictest privacy guidelines are followed. After all, he admits that “not everyone wants to be found.”

Interestingly, Hill points out in her story that you must send a copy of your driver’s license or passport, along with an email address, if you want removed from the Intelius campaign. (Editor’s note: Jim Adler clarifies, saying that an email address is not required when requesting an opt-out. “It is optional if you want to be notified when your request has been processed by our customer service.”)

Adler said that the opt-out procedure has always been free, but noted that privacy advocates have urged the company to make it easier to remove one’s name from the ad. He added that Intelius is “leading the industry with innovative ways for people to take control of their privacy.”

“So we now allow people to securely upload their identification online, to make sure we opt-out the right record. What’s more, we’ve integrated this new privacy feature into our online ads, so self-searchers can easily find and use it,” said Adler, adding that the improved opt-out functionality was announced last week at the Privacy, Identity, and Innovation conference.

Give it a try and see if your name appears.

John Cook is co-founder of GeekWire. Follow on Twitter: @geekwirenews and Facebook.

Comments

  • Guest

    Easy way to make this stop is every time you see your own name in an Intelius Add click it but don’t buy or spend time on the site.  They’ll end up paying Google for no conversion.  

  • Guest

    Google’s “AdWords policy” is not enforced. Numerous companies spend billions on marketing illegal drugs, illegal investment products (google “HYIP” and click on the ads), and other things that Google claims are not allowed.

    The way to stop this is not to involve Google but to pursue direct action against Intelius.

  • Guest

    So if I want to opt out I have to send them a copy of my drivers license or passport. These bozos have already invaded my privacy, and I’m supposed to give them even more information to make them go away?

    • Guest

      I sent them a copy of my driver’s license with all information redacted except for my name.

  • http://twitter.com/RedRussak Joshua ‘Red’ Russak

    Cool…just Googled it and saw an ad “We Found Joshua Russak”. I feel so important and made sure to click it. Interesting way to market their product. Strangely enough, I would have never noticed it if you didn’t point out its possible existence.

  • http://www.software.com Amy BG

    I thought my name would be strange enough, what with a hyphenated surname and all, but maybe not. Or maybe the geographical search tools Google uses have some effect?

    Regardless, I kind of think advertising like this is toeing the line, especially with such a difficult opt-out process. Does anyone know if it makes a difference if you browse in Private Mode?

  • Bastet1210

    Guestion intelius, hayman company, hoover company, military contracts, auto industry,
    association.   HELP!

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