Brion Finlay of Brooklyn Park recently started looking at new jobs.
When he started his search, Finlay, formerly an executive at a small engineering firm, did what many of us do to figure out what kind of brand we’re putting out into the world. He did the ol’ self-Google.
An entry near the top of the results page read, “Brion Finlay ( C ), 42- Minneapolis, MN Has Court or Arrest Records…”
This, from a website called MyLife, was news to Finlay, who doesn't have any kind of criminal record he's aware of. He clicked the link, and the following webpage insisted, under a big red caution sign, “Brion DOES have Arrest or Criminal Records.” It suggested he check out a full background report to find out whatever those might be.
“This may include any DUIs, traffic tickets, and outstanding warrants,” the website warned.
If Finlay wanted control over the information displayed on his MyLife profile, he’d have to pony up and enroll in a monthly plan. According to a class action lawsuit filed against the company on Finlay’s behalf, MyLife makes its bread and butter by tracking public data and compiling it into “reputation” scores searchable by name -- ostensibly so clients, employers, or virtually anyone else could get the scoop before deciding to partner with you.
“Learn the truth about neighbors, home service providers, dates, even so called friends and more,” the website says on its homepage, “To keep yourself safe.”
As Finlay alleges in his complaint:
“In actuality, MyLife’s true business appears to be a classic cyber extortion scheme whereby the company posts negative information online in the hope that individuals will ‘claim’ the page… by enrolling in a monthly plan."
These, the complaint continued, could run somewhere between $13.95 and $16.95 a month.
Finlay’s attorney, Dave Madgett, told MPR Finlay doesn't have anything more serious on his record than some traffic tickets, which are not considered criminal offenses in Minnesota. But as long as MyLife suggested there might be something worse lurking in Finlay’s past, potential employers might be put off.
Even if Finlay broke down and bought a plan, the complaint says, any attempts to “improve” his reputation score would be met with an upsell or two, asking users to “purchase additional levels of ‘control’ for the pages the company produces.”
“As a result of [MyLife’s] conduct, various class members have suffered from intrusion into their personal affairs, anger, frustration, anxiety, and, in some cases, loss of employment opportunity and general standing in the community,” the complaint alleges. The plaintiffs are seeking damages, and for MyLife to be unable to pull “such conduct in the future.”
The company didn’t respond to interview requests.
Some 13,700 customer complaints against MyLife have been filed with the Better Business Bureau about the company in the last three years.
“I emailed them requesting my information be taken down from their website and they replied back asking me for payment,” one complaint reads.
“MyLife has a page on me and I have no idea who they are,” another says.
“They are stating I have arrest records and other incorrect information and requesting money to remove it,” a third says.
Most of these complaints have been answered by a brief message from MyLife saying the offending page had been removed, but according to the Better Business Bureau, which rates the company with a 'D' grade, some remain unresolved.
MyLife has also already been sued by several other consumers – for an array of offenses including allegedly inaccurate information, violating the Illinois Right of Publicity Act, and luring people into paying to find out who has been searching for their information.