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Who Are You? Some Thoughts on Public/Private Information and Who’s Who

I received an email from Who’s Who today. Apparently I have been included on their list of Who’s Who in Law Higher Education. I did not ask to be included and I am not sure that I want to be on this list. So I poked around. Mark Lemley is in their database, and my alleged relation Anuj Desai is in there too; but not Dan Burk. I did some searches on some of my co-authors here and at Concurring Opinions. Many are listed, I wonder if they knew that. In addition, some of the listings have old titles (yes, that’s you Danielle, my friend). And there’s the problem.

In a world where people develop online reputations, being included in a database such as Who’s Who may not be desired. I always thought of the publication as one requiring payment for inclusion; that is apparently not so. Still that image persists in my mind so I don’t like being in the database. In addition, it is difficult to tell what criteria was used for to include or not include people. After digging around it appears I found this claim: “We maintain our own list of faculty and administration acquired from most Ph. D. granting universities across the United States and Canada. Currently more than 300,000 faculty are listed. These academicians are either nominated by other colleagues, self nominated, or have been selected and informed by our nomination committee based on the information published on them by their institutes.”

Some may argue that this is merely a database. Yet, the FAQ claims that it is:

the most comprehensive and authoritative online source of information available on leading and influential experts in the institutes of higher education. We are dedicated to creating an environment for information and collegial exchange among academicians via the Internet. We feel confident that Academic Keys can successfully supplement traditional professional magazines and journals in facilitating a powerful and dynamic communication venue. The Who’s Who in Higher Education is of critical reference value to a wide variety of groups:

– Colleagues at other universities use the Who’s Who as a valuable directory and reference.

– Government and corporations use the Who’s Who to identify expert consultants.

– Law firms use the Who’s Who to identify expert witnesses.

– Funding agencies use the Who’s Who to send RFP alerts.

– Media employees use the Who’s Who for accurate background facts on the individuals who are making news.

– It is the ideal starting point for research on individuals considered for appointments and nominations.

– The Who’s Who is an indispensable source for selection of speakers

No kidding? If any of these claims are true, then the thin and possibly erroneous information listed could harm someone’s reputation. Are people going to the site to look for experts, speakers, and so on?

In reality the site is focused on employment and seems to want to be an ad-driven service for academia-related jobs. The blanket inclusion of academics in the Who’s Who list seems to be a way to beef up the company’s image of reaching the wide range of academics. To be fair, the site has a way for one to remove one’s name. But that requires sending an email (could be an inadvertent conduit for more useless email). Worse, why should one have to work to remove one’s name from a database? It seems like a low-grade tax or blackmail. One has to find whether one is one some dubious list, whether the information is accurate, and then correct it. Which reminds me, has anyone figured out why one has to pay to have an unlisted number? But I digress.

The key idea here is that Who’s Who can scour the Web and list publicly available information. But I am not so sure why they can include people in an alleged database as if they chose to be in it without the consent of those in it. The system of “We included you, but you can remove your name” is backwards. In short opt-in, not opt-out is the better norm. They should know that and adhere to it. That approach could even enhance the company’s reputation. After all, a list of people who actually want to be on it and who provide accurate information may be useful to those seeking experts and scholarly exchange etc. As it is, a list of people who are added whether they like it or not is not something that offers useful information and mainly irritates people.

Who Are You – The Who

2 thoughts on “Who Are You? Some Thoughts on Public/Private Information and Who’s Who”

  1. Who actually uses these lists for anything? I was told I was on a few of these Who’s Who list when I was a high school student. What purpose could that possibly serve?

  2. Joe,
    That is the possible problem, I think. Most know that the service is dubious. Yet some may wonder whether people paid to be in it, and some may ask what you asked. So as a general matter, it seems that one may not want to be on the list at all, but one will be on it unless one takes steps to be off it. That strikes me as a bad system.

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