If the modern world feels like a place where it’s difficult to hide, Hank Asher is one reason. After selling a house-painting business and going broke, Asher turned to technology in the early 1990s. These days he’s best known as the pioneer of the data-fusion industry, a part of the tech world that involves connecting thousands of public and commercial databases and making their information easily searchable. “He’s kind of a legend” among those who use investigative data tools, says Greg Lambert, who co-founded a legal-tech blog and runs the library in the Houston office of law firm King & Spalding.
Asher’s latest company is called TLO—as in The Last One he plans to launch. Developed initially to help cops catch child predators, TLOxp offers trillions of records on individuals and businesses from about 100,000 sources of data. Lawyers, fraud investigators, debt collectors, and others use the system to find a person’s employers, co-workers, education history, mobile-phone numbers, liens, car titles, and more. Even scraps of data can lead to an information trove. Feed TLOxp an age range, a first name, and a few Zip Codes, for instance, and it’ll spit out a list of people that fit all the attributes. It also grabs the public information posted on social-media sites like Facebook, says Martha Barnett, a partner at the law firm Holland & Knight who serves as TLO’s chief privacy officer.