A search for personal data on ZabaSearch.com — one of the most comprehensive personal-data search engines on the net — tends to elicit one of two reactions from first-timers: terror or curiosity.

ZabaSearch queries return a wealth of info sometimes dating back more than 10 years: residential addresses, phone numbers both listed and unlisted, birth year, even satellite photos of people’s homes.

ZabaSearch isn’t the first or only such service online. Yahoo’s free People Search, for example, returns names, telephone numbers and addresses. But the information is nothing more than what’s been available for years in the White Pages.

Far more personal information is available from data brokers, including aliases, bankruptcy records and tax liens. That access typically requires a fee, however, which has always been a barrier to the casual snooper.

But ZabaSearch makes it easier than ever to find comprehensive personal information on anyone.

ZabaSearch may give away some data for free, but it charges for additional information — like background checks and criminal history reports, which may or may not be accurate. The company also plans to sell ads and other services on the search site, much like Google or Yahoo.

Launched in February, the site has emerged during a period of heightened sensitivity about data privacy and identity theft, now among the fastest-growing crimes in America. Numerous security breaches involving personal records have occurred in recent months. Earlier this week, media giant Time Warner admitted it lost the social security numbers of 600,000 employees. Other incidents of bungling or virtual burglary have compromised hundreds of thousands of personal records held by ChoicePoint, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Lexis-Nexis, among others.

Critics say ZabaSearch is exploiting the lack of data privacy in America. We unknowingly leak personal information in countless ways, the argument goes, and neither the government nor private industry provides effective ways for us to control how our digital identities are shared or sold.

More here.