Internet Privacy Alert: Your Personal Information Is Available On Spokeo.com
A website with the slogan "Not your grandma's phone book" is marketing itself as the next logical extension of social network sites like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. Co-founder Harrison Tang told a San Francisco ABC News affiliate that "Spokeo basically finds what your friends are doing across the web.” But it isn't just your Facebook friends or Twitter followers who can see what you're doing - anyone with an internet connection can find your phone number, address, approximate age, and a plethora of other demographic goodies.
I searched my own name on the website, as well as those of people close to me whose information I would be able to identify as true or false. Nearly every search indicated that the subject lives in a below-average neighborhood in a house worth over $1 million USD, with no fireplace, heat, or central air conditioning. Imagine how tough it is to live in a mansion that’s unprotected from the elements in a low-income neighborhood.
While very little information was accurate, including gender in some cases, most people would be uncomfortable with having this much personal data attached to their names. Those who register as members can even pay for credit scores, e-mail addresses, and more personal information. Disturbing? Absolutely. The information is unlikely to be accurate, based on what I saw on the free portion of the site; snopes.com’s own investigation confirmed my suspicion.
However, although the site has a disclaimer saying that credit history and other personal data are not to be used to grant or deny credit, employment, etc., I have to wonder if a frugal potential landlord or employer will fall for the low, low price and shell out their money to spokeo.com so they can investigate someone’s “history.”
The good news is that you can remove your name from the free public directory by clicking on the "privacy" link at the bottom of the search page.You'll need to provide your e-mail address in order to confirm your request, but don't worry - they already have it anyway. The information that will be removed from spokeo.com is public information, so it's still out there individually. However, someone will have to do the legwork to find it, instead of having it handed to them. The privacy link also contains a conveniently placed ad for a company offering to protect your privacy on the internet.
The best plan of defense, if feasible, seems to be to ditch your e-mail address and get a new one, then never do another online survey again. And then there are the social networking sites. Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace are rich territory for spokeo.com as well, so you might consider limiting the amount of personal information you put out there and changing your account settings to "private."