The internet is full of resources if you want to track a person down. Virtually no one can hide from search engines, social media, bots, and public records search tools. You can track down an old friend, ex-coworker, or even a lost relative with a bit of effort, time, and patience.
But this begs the question…
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Are online searches an invasion of privacy?
Legal experts define invasion of privacy as unauthorized access to a person’s private information or space by a company or an individual. The intruder might not use that access, but it’s still considered invasive.
If information is public, anyone can access it, and it’s not illegal to do so. Using the data to publish false information about someone is illegal in some jurisdictions.
Taking a picture of someone in public is not a violation. Taking one in their home without their consent is. When it comes to the workplace, things get quite vague. Your contract says if your workplace is a private or a public space. Your employer can include a clause where no recording made by them is a privacy violation, but a recording made by the employee is a violation.
Technically, you can find where someone works if their employer photographs them and posts the picture on the company website with its physical address on the contact page.
Falsely claiming to be someone’s relative is a violation. This is why institutions give your criminal and medical records only to people who can prove they are closely related to you.
Then, there’s doxxing, where you publish someone’s personal information on a public forum or platform without getting approval. It often happens to celebrities.
Doxxing isn’t always illegal. If you dox a public figure who committed a crime, it’s not a privacy violation because it favors the public.
That said, here are the best ways to find out about someone online – without doing anything illegal with the information once you get it.
A simple Google search can provide many details about a person, including what they do for a living, where they live, who they are related to, etc. Boolean search operators can help narrow your results down if the name is common. Google News will reveal if they’ve been on the news for whatever reason. You can also set up Google Alerts for their name. If something relevant surfaces online, you’ll get an email informing you.
Check the main social media
A Statista study showed that almost five billion people use social media sites. This is anticipated to reach six billion in four years. The person you want to know more about likely has a social media account, even several. Start with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and by no means overlook LinkedIn. Some people have no social media except this professional one.
If the person has a premium account on this medium, they’ll be notified if you view their profile.
Public records search tools
A person’s marriage, divorce, and birth certificates can be public records. You can check company registers and property certificates to see if the person has a business or property connected to their name. Public record search tools make this very easy and efficient.
Finally, bots have become widely used and popular, and many people use them to get information. You might use a bot if you’re struggling to find information about your search target online. AI chatbots don’t always provide accurate or current information.