In a big push to reduce the number of Internet account I have to keep track of I decided to try to delete my zoominfo account and profile. There was no automated way to do it but their FAQ said you could do it by email. So I sent my profile link to their remove address and less than 24 hours later I got an email saying:
At your request, your ZoomInfo account has been deactivated. If you created a public web profile, it will be removed from our site within 24-48 hours. We apologize for any inconvenience.
The account was deactivated fairly quickly (could no longer log in) but I could still see my profile for a few days before it disappeared (it now says "Sorry - the profile you're looking for has been removed).
The scary thing is that I did not have to prove that it was my account in order to get it deactivated! Yes, when they received my email request they could see that it appeared to be from the email address associated with the account, but email addresses can be spoofed. This sort of thing does not inspire confidence!
About a month ago I noticed that I had an entry in a directory called zoominfo and I decided to investigate.
Zoominfo claims to have entries for over 38 million individuals and over 3 million companies. How did it accumulate this many entries? Basically it runs a bot that scrapes the Internet searching for information about companies and people that work for those companies. Anyone can access the database through their website but they make their money (in part) by selling premium services that might be useful for marketing purposes, headhunting etc.
Doing a "People Search" for Ian Gregory brings up entries for 115 people (I am currently listed in 5th place). That seems quite impressive. For comparison, some time ago I did a Google search for "Ian Gregory" (which currently returns "about 43,800" results) and managed to isolate (after many hours of tedious work) what I thought were 29 unique namesakes. Meanwhile, the DMOZ category Society>People>Personal_Homepages>G only lists a single Gregory, and his first name is Phil (I once tried submitting my personal homepage to the category but it was never approved). So the zoominfo directory appears to be very comprehensive, but how accurate is it?
Since my entry was unverified and out of date I decided to try to update it, which first required taking control of it. Viewing my entry there were a few interesting things to note. Firstly, it had only been viewed a couple of times, which indicates that the directory is probably not heavily used (I had never heard of it until then). I was listed as working for the University of Hertfordshire even though I left there in early 2005. So clearly zoominfo knew about UH, but how did it know I worked there? Well it said said something like:
Please Note: This profile was automatically generated using 2 references found on the Internet. This information has not been verified. Learn more...
The references were two separate copies of a "testimonial" I wrote for Black Cat Networks, saying how pleased I was with their services (they were a very cool hosting company, though unfortunately they have now wound up and transferred their customers, including me, to Mythic Beasts). I had signed the testimonial "Ian Gregory, Systems and Applications Manager, University of Hertfordshire" so that is clearly how they registered my existence. Next to my name there was a link called "This is Me" and obviously clicking on that link was the first step in claiming my profile.
So I clicked on "This is Me" and it gave me the opportunity to give an email address and a password, which I did. At this point it would seem that I had succeeded in ensuring that nobody else could claim my profile and it did not require any verification that I was who I claimed to be. I could have gone on to claim other unclaimed profiles, thus locking out the people that they actually referred to, but being a good netizen of course I did not do that. However, that was only the first step. I still could not update my profile without an additional verification step, and here things started to get interesting!
There were two choices of method to verify that I was the person referred to by the entry. The first involved giving credit card details. It said that no money would be taken from the card, but that the name on the card would be used for verification. I had no intention of giving my card details but I could have used my credit card to claim that I was any of the other unclaimed Ian Gregories (actually my first name does not appear on my card, only my two initials, so I might have been able to claim a profile for an Iris Gregory as well). Of course if had falsely claimed a profile using my card and then the rightful owner had later tried to claim it I could have been tracked down through my card and landed in trouble, but as I said, I had no intention of giving card details anyway.
The second method was verification by email. Since I was listed as working for UH I had the option of giving any username at herts.ac.uk for a confirmation code to be sent to. When I first claimed the profile I gave a zenatode email address and I no longer have a UH address - but I do have friends who still work for UH. So I gave the username of a friend and asked him to forward the email to me. That worked a treat and by using the confirmation code I was able to gain full access to my profile. But again, this is anything but foolproof. There are about 30,000 people with UH email addresses and any of them could claim the profile of anyone listed as working for UH.
So is seems that the verification process is seriously flawed, but nevertheless I now have full control of my own zoominfo profile. I went on to update my profile by giving correct employment and education information. Since I am now self employed I did not have a current company I could give so I am now listed as "University of Hertfordshire (Past)". Also, since Black Cat Networks is no more, the two testimonials are no longer on the web - but zoominfo still lists them and has them cached. My profile has now been viewed a grand total of 31 times, but that is probably mostly by me:-)
Finally, here a a couple of interesting articles about zoominfo I found on the web:
www.zenatode.org.uk Ian Gregory 2010