Online data broker US Search has settled a Federal Trade Commission complaint by agreeing to refund fees paid by 5,000 Web users who purchased its "PrivacyLock," touted as a service that would remove information about them from the company's site.
In a complaint made public on Wednesday, the FTC alleged that the privacy lock was defective for a host of reasons. Among others, PrivacyLock allegedly wasn't effective when people changed addresses or were known by more than one name (such as when people had records with and without a middle name). Also, according to the complaint, the tool didn't prevent users names from appearing as associates of other people.
US Search did not admit to wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
The company allegedly promised people that the tool would remove their information from US Search's site and would suppress it from affiliates and advertisers. The FTC said in its complaint that these marketing claims misrepresented the product's effectiveness.
US Search allegedly began selling PrivacyLock to consumers for $10 in June of 2009. By the time the company stopped charging for the tool in May, 4,960 consumers had purchased the service, according to the FTC's complaint.
US Search isn't the only data broker to face scrutiny. Online data aggregator and broker Spokeo also has been the subject of an FTC complaint, as well as a potential class-action lawsuit. In July, the digital rights group Center for Democracy & Technology alleged in an FTC complaint that Spokeo was violating a federal consumer protection law by offering detailed financial reports about individuals. While Spokeo allows people to opt out of its database, some users have alleged that they were later restored after a change in circumstances.