Stalking: There's an app for that

Comprehensive background checks delivered right to your phone!

Published December 29, 2009 10:30PM (EST)

Have you always wanted to run a background check on everyone you've ever met, but been too put off by the thought of paying up to $19.95 per check? can solve that problem for you! Their new Background Check iPhone app will allow you to snoop on unsuspecting acquaintances  -- gathering "basic information like name, age, address history and relatives," a "comprehensive state and nationwide criminal records search," a "social networking scan," and the value of any property they own -- three times a week for free, and if that's not enough, more extensive plans start at $8 a month. According to, "In just three days since its release, the application already sits on #12 on the iTunes list of free utilities and continues to climb."

Supposedly, this is meant to appeal to small business owners, average citizens looking to make sure their professional contacts aren't shady, and online daters hoping to reduce their chances of meeting criminals for coffee. But Been Verified's national TV spot (below) is right up there with the Broadview Security ads Sarah Haskins ably skewered in terms of reminding women that we are never safe. Sure, there's a guy in there who's going to check out his accountant, mortgage broker and electrician -- it's not like women would be hiring those people anyway! -- but the commercial is anchored by a single woman who wants peace of mind before the first date and a pregnant woman who declares, "No stranger comes around my growing family without a background check!" (That must make running errands difficult, but perhaps she has background-checked help?) The latter also asks the question at the heart of this particular pitch: "How can I know who to trust?" Silly lady, didn't you see the Broadview ads? The answer is no one! You're a victim waiting to happen! Unless, of course, you run a criminal records check on anyone who gets within a 10-foot radius of your fetus.

Like all safety precautions, there's surely a time and a place for something like this. Businesses already running checks on potential employees can do it less expensively. Investigating an accountant beyond Yelp reviews could be a good idea before you hand over sensitive financial information. People hiring caregivers for family members would probably find it useful. And sure, if you've got a hinky feeling about a guy you just started dating, it would be nice to find out for sure if he's already married or wanted for fraud or something. But what individual actually needs to run a check on three people a week? If you're as puzzled by that question as I am, the application offers a helpful suggestion: "Not sure who to check? Run background checks on everyone in your address book!" Of course! Why didn't I think of that? After all, how can I know who to trust?

In a week when airport security theater is increasing yet again for no good reason other than calming a public that prefers the illusion of safety to rational thought about risk, this idea that hypervigilance is necessary to survive everyday life is working my last fucking nerve. How can I know who to trust? Well, let's see, there's gut instinct cultivated over 35 years of interacting with other human beings. There's real fear, as opposed to diffuse anxiety. There are recommendations from friends I've come to trust over time. There's the Better Business Bureau and umpteen websites where I can find complaints about someone I'm considering dealing with. There's making a realistic assessment of the likelihood that any given person means to do me harm -- which is perhaps never zero with strangers, but only rarely much higher, in my experience. There are patterns of behavior that should raise red flags if I'm paying attention. There's, you know, common sense.

Meanwhile, you know who's really going to love this one? Stalkers. Control freaks, manipulative jerks and garden variety nosy parkers. Maybe even identity thieves. Basically, half the people you would want technology like this to help you avoid. Sure, you can check out that guy you just met online -- and he can do the same. If it so happens that he is the kind of person you'd be better off without, now he doesn't even have to fork over $20 to get piles of your personal information -- but hey, at least this way you don't have to feel like a chump for being the one who gave him that info, since you learned in advance not to trust him. Don't you feel safer already?



By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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