It’s amazing what you can find out about a person online.
For instance, there’s a remarkable website called PeekYou.com, a people search engine visited by nearly 6 million people per month, which recently informed me that it had collected all of my relevant public information.
So I clicked on the link and I discovered that I am:
• Named Jim B. Kershner.
• 51 years old.
• A staff writer and columnist for The Spokesman-Review.
• A resident of Spokane, Wash., USA.
• A former resident of Federal Way, Edmonds, Maple Valley and Bothell, Wash.
• Related to Liesl Jean Kershner of Atlanta, Ga., James Barton Kershner of Fresno, Calif., and Tim B. Kershner of Maple Valley, Wash.
• A neighbor of Carol Kershner.
OK, let’s add up the score: Two right, nine wrong and one really, really wrong.
That “really, really wrong” part is about Carol Kershner being my neighbor. Or maybe PeekYou has an exceptionally strange definition of “neighbor.” I don’t live next to Carol Kershner, I live with her. She’s my wife.
PeekYou turns out to be a strange combination of creepily true and hopelessly false. Some of it is indeed impressive. For instance, under “neighbors” it also lists my correct next-door neighbors to the west. But then it blows it by having my wife living next door in some kind of weird trial separation. The only two correct items are the ones about Spokane and The Spokesman-Review.
By the way, this website also gives everyone a “PeekScore,” a ranking from 1 to 10.
“The higher someone’s score, the ‘more important’ they are on the web,” says the PeekYou website. “In calculating your PeekScore and updating it often, PeekYou takes into account your known presence and activity on the Internet.”
I am proud to report that Jim B. Kershner’s PeekScore is 8 out of 10 – the same, says the site, of star football player Ray Lewis and diminutive screen star Danny DeVito.
I suppose I would actually be more proud if my name were Jim B. Kershner. It is not. My middle initial is E. To sum up, my name is one of the things that PeekYou got wrong.
It also made up that part about me having lived in Federal Way, Edmonds, Maple Valley and Bothell, Wash. However, I will admit that PeekYou managed to completely surround the only other place in Washington (besides Spokane) that I have lived. That would be Kent.
PeekYou also made up that part about my age, which is off by seven years. Seven years on the good side, I’ll grant, but still off.
And then it managed to invent an entirely new family for me, with brand new relatives named Liesl Jean, James and Tim. I am certain they are wonderful people. I would love to hang out with them at the next family reunion, except they are not my relatives. Somehow, PeekYou has failed to note the existence of my actual children and siblings – information, by the way, that anybody can see on my Facebook page – but they made up for it by giving me Liesl. I expect Liesl to put me in her will.
This is all amusing, of course, but also obnoxious. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 36 years of journalism, it’s that people are exceptionally sensitive about the details of their lives. Getting someone’s name wrong, or their age wrong, is a sin punishable by – well, by correction and public humiliation.
So, on one hand, I find PeekYou to be laughable. It’s just an algorithm that doesn’t quite capture the complexity of life. On the other hand, I find the whole thing galling. If you’re going to violate someone’s privacy, the least you can do is violate it accurately.
I should probably notify PeekYou that my information is wrong, but I won’t for two reasons. First, PeekYou informs me that they can’t allow people to manage or edit their information “because we don’t have a way to accurately verify your identity.” Boy, are they right about that.
The second reason: I somehow enjoy having a new, fictional life. I would love to get to know my neighbor, Carol, better. She seems pretty great.