People search engine Pipl‘s people search API is now out of beta and open to all developers. The API can be used to bring a variety of information about an individual, from social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn to government resources like the United States Patent and Trademark Office and county clerk offices, into any application.

Customer ID, Social Context and CRM

Pipl’s Chief Revenue Officer Jonathan N. Schreiber says the API could be used for customer identification or verification, or to add social context to applications, such as customer relation management (CRM) systems. In this way, Pipl will compete with people-data providers like Rapleaf, which powers services like Rapportive. But it’s a flexible API and could be used in a number of unforeseen ways.

The API, built using Mashery’s platform, is designed to let developers use the GET command to retrieve Pipl’s search results in JSON on XML format, says Schreiber. Developers can specify a specific type of info they want, such as a mailing address, or just the full search results. The results are time-stamped and include a score that reflects how confident the Pipl service is that it has the right person.

Much of the data that Pipl finds is not normally accessible through Web searches but is still publicly available. According to Schreiber, Pipl uses only publicly available, non-logged-in information and respects robots.txt instructions to avoid the collection of information that’s not meant to be crawlable.

Schreiber describes Pipl as a “real search engine,” not a metasearch engine. It doesn’t query each source for each search – it has already crawled and indexed all of this information. Pipl also performs recursive searches: Once it finds an email address associated with a person, it goes back and uses it to find more profiles and information associated with that email address.

Creepy or Not, Here It Comes

This may sound a bit creepy, but Schreiber also says that although Pipl will try to determine an individual’s email addresses, the search engine will never return email address results to users. In fact, Pipl may actually prove useful in cleaning up online profiles by exposing old profiles and information.

Nevertheless, services like Pipl and other people data search engines like Spokeo have proven controversial. See ReadWriteWeb’s recent post: Here Are 20 Companies Who Sell Your Data (& How To Stop Them). While there are plenty of innocent uses for an API like this, it’s not hard to imagine developers using this API to do some unsettling things.

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