Congress, the FCC and my grandmother can scream all they want about protecting people’s privacy but that’s long gone in this, the Internet era. But some sites and information can be controlled. The big bad boy of the anti-privacy world is Spokeo.com, basically a search engine that aggregates information pertaining to individual names, email addresses, and phone numbers from online public sources such as phone books, real estate listings, and government records, plus profile entries from websites like Facebook, MySpace, Amazon.com, LinkedIn, Flickr, and many others (the Spokeo site lists upwards of 50 potential data sources).
It can indeed be shocking to see how much information can be dug up about you in 15 seconds — your home address, your marital status, religion, hobbies, names of friends and family members, personal photos, a satellite image of your home, even your estimated income and credit score.
Just as troubling is the fact that no one fact-checks the assembled data, meaning it can be partially or wholly incorrect.
The thing is, if Spokeo can find it, the info is publicly available and can be found online by anyone, with or without the convenience of a Spokeo.com.
The website does provide a “Privacy” button whereby you can delete your individual listing (note: some users report this is easier said than done), but don’t miss the critical point: simply removing your search results from Spokeo.com doesn’t prevent anyone from accessing the data by other means.
To protect your personal data on social networking services, you must either refrain from providing it to sites like MySpace and Facebook in the first place, or adjust your privacy settings on each website accordingly. Also, if your phone number and address are listed in the White Pages, that information is publicly accessible online, as are some government records (accessibility varies by state) and real estate listings.
These sites however are what we call “referral sites”. Basically, loss leaders, teasing an unwitting viewer by giving them partial information (such as 3 of the 7 digits in a phone number, a name of a relative, a FB pic…), into purchasing product or a subscriptions. The information is generally 12 – 18 months old and often, even older.
Just keep your personal business to yourself as much as possible and sign up for alerts (like Google Alerts) on yourself. Those sweeps are fairly effective and well, better than doing nothing.
BNI Operatives: One step ahead.
As always, stay safe.
- US privacy advocates reiterate Spokeo.com warnings (bigbrotherwatch.org.uk)
- Spokeo and personal data aggregators: Xeni on The Madeleine Brand Show (boingboing.net)