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When Edit for Free is a Deceptive Ad

Got a personal background? Well of course, we all do. Are there websites publishing your personal information as a public profile? Most likely, yes.

My guess is that most people are angered by the fact that their personal information has become aggregated for monetary gain, and made all the more visible because the source of the info was so-called 'public information'. 

That in itself is troubling, but it's even more frustrating since it's a routine practice by sites, even if the person never joined or posted the personal information themselves.

Should there be a change in the laws with how so-called 'public' information is distributed across the internet? My belief is an absolute 'yes' to that question. But, maybe that's just me. Perhaps others are okay with it, as we have become desensitized.

Your question by now may be: 'What does all of that have to do with deceptive advertising? And, what do you get to edit for free?'

Is 'edit for free' deceptive advertising?


Let's get into the meat and potatoes...

Without naming any specific sites this is what I'm referring to:

There are sites who publish aggregated personal information, which they claim is fine to do because the information was 'public' before they acquired it.

However, their site is aggressively making the information all the more accessible to those who would be up to no good, yet they claim they care about our privacy - not!

A visitor arrives on those sites because they discover their information has been published there. They offer visitors the ability to register in order to claim their profile.

Some of those sites attempt to lead its visitors to believe they care about their privacy, when in fact they're flourishing by the monetary gain to charge members if they wish to make their profile private!

And of course, once you register it provides their site with yet another piece to the puzzle - your email address!

The so-called benefit of joining their site is so you can edit inaccuracies, and control your personal information.
The initial ploy is that you can do that for free.

Regarding the personal information publicly displayed, one site offers the person the ability to do these two things:
  1. "Edit inaccuracies for free"
  2. "Control your background report"
My interpretation of those two points may be quite different than yours, as we all view things differently.

The interpretation in my mind results by combining those two sentences as one. To me, it means this: If I join the site I can, "Edit inaccuracies for free, and control my background report." Seems simple enough, so naturally millions would join, right?

However, as one jumps through their hoops and screens, (as the thousands or millions before them have also done), one quickly discovers they cannot edit other information which is displayed publicly, nor control their background report. In other words, they cannot truly edit it for free as they implied.

The 'free' deal only allows a person to remove a written summary, which includes many inaccuracies. However, it forces a person to have something written in the summary field. Otherwise, when you select 'save' it doesn't save your changes to the inaccurate information!

In that it requires some sort of text written in the summary box, I decided to simply type in asterisks! 😜

From reading comments from other people I learned most of them are reporting that the inaccuracies include names as supposed relations, yet they are names they don't even recognize - not as friends let alone family members!

My personal take is that the site is making use of inaccuracies used deliberately as a lure to get more people to register so they can 'edit for free' those inaccuracies, but then leads the registered member to a shopping cart where they are then required to submit payment in order to make their profile 'private'.
Deceptive Advertising
Controls the Puppets!

But wait, they said; 'See any inaccuracies in your information? Edit for free.' And they also stated a person could, 'Control your background report.'

When they make those statements they should have disclosed that payment would be required in order to truly 'Control your background report.'

However again, one soon discovers they want money to do what they implied that could be done for free!

Another problem, is the fact that you can't even access all of the information in the 'free' mode, so how can you possibly truly 'edit for free'? You can't!

Part of (what I feel is a deceptive advertising practice), proclaims that if you 'see' any inaccuracies in your information, you can edit for free. Just to clarify again, the problem is that some of the information isn't accessible in the free mode, so it's not possible to 'see' what remaining inaccuracies exist! It's a total run-around!
Edit for Free???
Another misleading point would be regarding if a person had court records, which may in fact have inaccuracies that were never corrected.

Background Report Control
That would involve far more than just using that site that claimed you could 'Control your Background Report'!

It just doesn't work that way, so that too from my viewpoint is yet another deceptive advertisement. If a person had inaccuracies in their background report, it would need to be changed at the source - not from a site that is aggregating the information!

My argument is therefore that you cannot actually 'control your background report' as they claim, yet that's one reason they attempt to get a person to pay-up!

Without diving deeper into those additional challenges, let's return to the simplest form of advertising they proclaimed for the person to 'edit for free' any inaccuracies.

Due to the fact they did not disclose that there would be a fee to truly 'edit' and 'control' the information, I believe they are utilizing deceptive advertising, but that's my opinion. You may interpret it differently than I. But where the rubber meets the road would be with the laws and those who enforce them to determine if it's deceptive advertising.

Correct and Edit
Yet another deception on their site, is where you see the opportunity to 'Correct and Edit your background details', which sounds very similar to their phrase seen earlier on their site as you move through their hoops, 'See any inaccuracies? Edit for free.' yet here again in order to do so, it leads to their shopping cart to pay-up!

What is a Deceptive Advertising Practice?

There are numerous types of deceptive advertising practices. The type of deceptive ad that is the most applicable to this situation, is shown in the example below of a free product or service.

Deceptive Advertising Practice: 
'Offering something that is supposedly "free" but in fact has a cost.'
Reference: Nolo Law. If you wish to read more on their site about deceptive advertising.

As we have read the description of deceptive advertising practice regarding free offers, for me it seems to be common sense and not too complicated. Unfortunately though, law isn't that simple.

"Free" is supposed to mean just that! When a business doesn't follow-through on their advertised 'free' offer, and then attempts to force you to pay-up to accomplish what you were led to believe could be had for free, is it just me, or does that seem to be deceptive advertising?

Returning back to their dashboard:
When an attempt is made to slide the choice from 'public' to 'private', and then to save that choice it then leads you to their shopping cart.

Public vs Private Information
My personal opinion is this: Even though certain information is deemed as 'public information', when it is stored with an entity such as Governmental agencies, the status of 'public information' should not be so easily accessible.

In other words, it should not legally be allowed to be sold and/or scraped by robots to republish for monetary gain.

With all the years that have gone by, it's old news regarding the publication of our personal information, but when is it going to end?

People have sold our information for monetary gain, and robots have scraped and gathered it from across the internet and the end to that madness is nowhere in sight.

The amount of personal information being published without one's permission is staggering, but then to be forced to pay in order to make it 'private' also seems deceptive to me. And, especially when they already declared it was 'public' information to begin with!

Many have also  reported that they email the company and request the site to remove their profile entirely, but that attempt doesn't help.

The company replies to the emails, claiming they have removed the person's profile and information as requested, when in fact they do not!

Their email reply stated the following:
'We appreciate your inquiry about the information on (the sites name that was here - I redacted). The information on each profile page is gathered from public sources, which can be easily found online using a simple Google search. The referenced profile has been removed as requested. Please allow the required 24 hours for the profile to be completely removed.'
The internet robots just keep repopulating the information from their site, which tells me that the site still has it in their database, and that it's not just a matter of the information being 'cached' copies on the internet, or in ones browser. They simply are not willing to delete a person's profile because they want people to pay-up!

Demands for them to remove a person's profile and information from their site are unfruitful.

Our laws remain far from successful with closing the loopholes those schemes use, which make all of us more susceptible to identity theft.

Another deceptive form of advertising is bait and switch, which you can read more about here on Money Illusions, and we also have articles about identity theft.