“There was no warning at all – it completely came out of the blue! One minute I’m minding my own business, getting on with my life, next thing I know, these people are telling me that it isn’t my life I’m living – it’s someone else’s,” explains twenty eight year old Dover IT worker Kit Quittock, in an interview with his local newspaper. “I came home from work one night last week to find this e-mail notifying me that my life had been ‘matched’ against a third party’s life by some agency I’d never heard of, and that if I didn’t change it, I could face legal action!” Quittock is one of a growing number of web users to fall foul of Google’s new ‘Life ID’ system, which allows affiliated agencies and individuals to compare their own lives, or the lives of their clients against the profiles of internet users and assess whether they have significant similarities. “Apparently, they can scan the lives of any Google Plus user – and these days you seem to have to have an account just to use any other Google service. They can gather so much information from your activities on Google properties and all the information you give them elsewhere, that they know practically everything about you,” Quittock told the Weekly Kent. “This agency – ‘The Grove’ – is claiming that my life is so similar to that of one of their clients – some actor I’ve never heard of – that I must be plagiarising his life!”
According to top tech journalist Neville Caracas, the ‘Life ID’ system is simply a logical extension of Google’s earlier ‘Content ID’ system which allows owners of copyrighted material to check whether their music or videos are being used without permission by You Tube users. “The idea was to try and combat ID theft online – we’ve all seen those fake celebrity accounts on social media, for instance. Obviously, neither real celebrities nor their agents want to see their names associated with dodgy activities,” says Caracas, in the latest issue of Technob magazine. “The trouble is that, like ‘Content ID’, the system can be over-sensitive, flagging up a few superficial similarities between people’s lives as a ‘life match’. Obviously, this sort of thing can be irritating for those affected, but Google do have a system for resolving disputes, just as it has with ‘Content ID, and shouldn’t take more than thirty days to sort these ‘false positives’ out.” However, Quittock has disputed the utility of Google’s dispute resolution system. “For one thing, it is next to impossible to find: they hide it away in the footer of your Google Plus account,” he claimed in his local paper. “More importantly, if I can’t find any details of this guy whose life I’m accused of stealing anywhere, how can I challenge the allegation? There’s next to no information on ‘The Grove’s’ website – they just list him as being in a couple of sleazy-sounding films which haven’t been released yet – and an entry on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), which says he was in a 2009 episode of Hollyoaks, but which gives no biographical details!”
One person who has experienced the vagaries of the dispute resolution system is Bristol civil servant Brian Pobblestone, who fought a lengthy battle with ‘The Grove’, who had accused him of infringing the copyrighted life of actor James Purefoy. “It was ludicrous, the only things we have in common are that we’re both from the West Country, we both used to sell the Socialist Worker and both support Yoevil Town. Apart from that, my life is nothing like his – I’ve never appeared in a film, or acted at all, not even in a school play! Plus, I’m considerably younger than him!” the Job Centre clerk recently told the Sunday Bystander. “It isn’t as if I even look like him and have been impersonating him for gain! But that didn’t stop that agency from claiming that my alleged hijacking of his life was threatening his reputation and livelihood! First of all they wanted to make deductions from my wages, claiming they would represent copyright fees for the use of Purefoy’s life! When I refused, they said I should walk around with a placard advertising the DVD of his most recent film, or have an advertising hoarding erected on the front of my house! When I started the dispute process, the bastards tried to have my bank accounts frozen so as to stop me from profiting from my alleged identity theft!”
Pobblestone eventually won his appeal against the claims made by ‘The Grove’, but only after three attempts and is now considering legal action against the agency. “At least in my case the person whose life I was supposedly infringing was famous enough that the details of his actual life were easy to research,” he explained in the newspaper article. “But the most disturbing thing is that when I was researching Purefoy’s life, I found his agent’s details and contacted them – they denied that ‘The Grove’ had ever been authorised to act on their client’s behalf to collect fees related to theft of his identity. Indeed, they said they’d never heard of ‘The Grove’ or the ‘Life ID’ system! It’s clear that the likes of ‘The Grove’ are just opportunistic parasites seeking to abuse the ‘Life ID’ system for their own benefit.” Others haven’t been so lucky: former professional George Michael impersonator Dennis Lympwyck was forced to undergo plastic surgery before finding that ‘The Grove’ didn’t actually represent the former ‘Wham’ singer. “They told me it was the only way I could avoid legal action – not only was it expensive and extremely painful, but it has completely ruined my career,” the forty year old Swansea resident told the South Wales Free Advertiser and Horse Traders Weekly. “It wasn’t just that I looked like George, but they also pointed out that I’d once been prosecuted for soliciting an undercover policeman in the toilets at the bus station – it was all a misunderstanding – and that I’d once crashed my car whilst under the influence! They reckoned that was too much to just be coincidence!”
Quittock, buoyed up by Pobblestone’s victory, has vowed to fight on against ‘The Grove’ and expose their evil machinations. “It seems obvious to me that they are gaming the ‘Life ID’ system by inventing clients, then making spurious claims on their behalf,” he told the Weekly Kent. “I’m convinced that they trawl through people’s Google Plus profiles, then feed the details into the ‘Life ID’ system under their made up clients’ names, so as to ensure matches. There’s no way that you can put all of these false matches down to simple glitches in the ‘Life ID’ system.” He has also called upon Google to take action to protect its users from the predatory activities of agencies like ‘The Grove’. However, neither the search giant nor ‘The Grove’ have responded to any of Quittock’s allegations.