I’m trying to do an internet startup with some friends, and face the following privacy dilemma. In the US, most court records are publicly available. We could use that source of data in an automated way to better market certain products to our customers. We’d be matching the records to named individuals. Example: if John Smith is looking at our website and through an automated query our system finds out he was just declared bankrupt, we can suggest something that other people in this situation tend to buy.
Now, my friends think this is fine, because the information is public. I agree that it being public is a good thing, because it ensures transparency of court proceedings. However, it seems to me even though it’s public, we shouldn’t use it. My reasons are that it wasn’t made public for such a purpose, that most people likely wouldn’t like that if the data was about them, and that some of the data is just too personal, e.g. divorce records.
On the other hand, I know I can be oversensitive in moral matters, so I hoped to see what other people think. Since it’s very important to me that our business only does what is right, I think I’m going to quit unless either my friends change their minds, or there’s clear indication here that I’m going overboard in my concern. Many thanks! God bless.