By Susanna Speier
Denver Private Investigator Blogger
DENVER - Our August 19th post, Find out if your client's partner or spouse is on Ashley Madison, pointed to Trustify's database and urged private investigators to use it as a research tool. That was before an August 24th article posted by Microsoft MVP of Developer Security, Troy Hunt titled, “Ashley Madison search sites like Trustify are harvesting email addresses and spamming searched victims," included a screenshot of an unsolicited email Trustify is sending victims of the Ashley Madison hack. It's subject heading: "'your boss might know.'"
"'Talk with our experienced investigative consultants,'" another Trustify email concludes, "'to learn how you can find out what incriminating information is available and could ruin your life.'"
When we contacted Trustify to get their side of the story, we got ghosted. This article will therefore focus on our interview with Metropolitan State University Computer Science Professor, Steve Beaty, instead.
“The security community is very unhappy with (Trustify)” explains Metropolitan State University Computer Science Professor Steve Beaty in an interview. “People trashed them, correctly. You shouldn’t be able to look up anybody. You should be able to look up yourself”
The rest of the conversation with Steve Beaty is transcribed below:
STEVE BEATY: The data (from the Ashley Madison hack) are public but searching them takes some skill. It was originally posted to the TOR (The Onion Router) hidden web or dark web. Files are a database dump so it does take some amount of sophistication to look at the email addresses and credit card charges.
DENVER PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR BLOGGER: Is there anything good about the dark web?
STEVE BEATY: There are good things about the anonymity TOR provides. In countries without internet privacy, TOR provides ways of communicating that would otherwise expose users. It’s been used for human rights activists and the Arab Spring for example. For hidden services, I think the case is less compelling; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tor_%28anonymity_network%29#Usage
DENVER PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR BLOGGER: Was Trustify the only site to bring the stuff from the dark web into the light and try to monetize it?
STEVE BEATY: I’m sure other people have. When these things happen there will be people who send extortion emails to everyone they can get an address for. There will be a certain percentage of people who will say ‘gee maybe I signed up. Here’s $50.’
DENVER PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR BLOGGER: $50 for what?
STEVE BEATY: “I can remove your name from the Ashley Madison database.”
DENVER PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR BLOGGER: And that’s possible?
STEVE BEATY: Trustify’s Ashley Madison search tool Q&A asks that, too. What if a cheater or their spouse wants the data deleted? Can people pay you for that? Trustify responds,there might be people you pay to do that - we aren’t those people. No one can do that!!!
Trustify also says, we have consulted our legal team and privacy experts every step of the way. Have they consulted an ethicist? Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it’s moral.
DENVER PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR BLOGGER: Can a private investigator use the data obtained from the Ashley Madison hack to pursue an infidelity case in a way that is moral?
STEVE BEATY: Private investigators keep it private. (Privacy) doesn’t allow the general public or places like Trusty to benefit. I don’t think its private when they start sending everybody email or when they have a public website saying anybody can check. Not just on yourself but on anybody. That’s not private investigation. That’s public. That’s fear mongering. I don’t like that. That’s exploiting a situation.
Even if they’re not making money on the Ashley Madison look ups. People are going to want to turn around and hire them. That’s advertisement for them. Even if its not a direct money source for them its an indirect source --talk about SEO!! [Trustify's Ashley Madison search tool is "averaging 500 searches per second," according to CNN] It's ambulance chasing, in my opinion.
By Susanna Speier
Denver Private Investigator Blogger
Following its June 2015 launch, Trustify has garnered tons of media attention. Most recently, it was featured in Pursuit Magazine, a trade publication for detectives and private investigators.
Related Story: is Trustify trustworthy?
Here's how writer Chad Nichols characterized the fledgeling company's user experience and summarizes its services in Pursuit:
"Any curious person can download an app to their mobile device, and within minutes, Trustify will process their request to find out things like whether "my partner is cheating on me" or if "the person I'm dating is who I think they are," among other options. The company was started by D.C. area tech entrepreneur Danny Boice. Customers are changed $67 an hour (of which the investigators get $30) for its on-demand service."
After gaining a 30% user uptick following the Ashley Madison hack it strategized on ways to further it's reach, should Ashley Madison user names be released, according to a Washington Post article on Trustify:
Trustify plans to pounce on the Ashley Madison user list if it's leaked online. Then clients can come to the Trustify site and search, for free, to see if their e-mail address --or their partner's e-mail address-- appears on the list."
Should the Hacker group, that calls itself "The Impact Team" actually release the list of Ashley Madison users this would be great publicity for Trustify. Can a detective agency function in the cloud, though? And how would will Trustify fare against the myriad local, brick and mortar options available to consumers?
"Uber for the PI world isn't the best way to describe it," clarifies Michael Hunter, Director of Investigations at Trustify in a phone interview. "The term just seems something everyone can latch onto."
When asked to elaborate he continued, "the goal here is being able to push out a case to an individual on demand and bring clarity to an industry that is more or less outdated." Conjuring up another Uber metaphor he adds, "its like bringing the black car market to the mainstream."
Is most of their business driven by the Ashley Madison hack? "Infidelity is our main market." He says. "We're expanding across services. Our goal is to recruit as many PIs are willing to work in the network."
But is $67 an hour enough to cover these services?
"We're trying to allow PIs to make a living" Hunter says, "$67 an hour goes to the customers and $30 go to the PIs."
Hunter goes on to explain that most PIs he knows like the PI work but are relatively non plussed by the self-promotional aspects of the operation. Trusity, therefore, removes the responsibility of connecting to clients by doing it for them.
"We use an algorithm based on performance" Hunter responds when asked to clarify how cases are offered to the 2,000 PIs currently in the database. "We do background checks on all our PIs. They go through a really thorough vetting process. We know what we're talking about as far as vetting PIs goes."
Isn't licensing an issue?
"We've been in coordination with boards that do licenses in various states. Responsibility is on the PI to be licensed. We say send us a copy of your license and check with the licensing agencies."
What about cross state assignments?
"We follow state requirements. There are only four states left that don't have to be licensed and we haven't been running operations in those states, anyway."
One case that they did involved tracking someone through multiple jurisdictions so they found PIs in each of those jurisdictions to work on the case.
What about the clients? Are they vetting the clients at all? "Anyone who comes across our desk and is obviously crazy we don't work with them. We do an initial intake and if they're crazy give their money back. Then the PI does an initial consultation with them and decides if they want to take on the case."
Trustify has done what Hunter refers to as its "hard opening" in DC and is planning on doing doing "soft openings in other places. Right now we are opened in DC officially."
Trustify now has a team recruiters of recruiters actively seeking out private investigators. The service has grown considerably since it began. PIs who use the service are currently expected to have their own surveillance equipment. Access to specialty databases also comes at the individual PIs expense.
"PIs can go to the website to be part of the network" Hunter says, reiterating that they are actively recruiting. (Trustify) also posts on major job boards like, Indeed.com.
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