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Monday, May 17, 2010

Spokeo: The Internet White Pages For Stalkers


Concerned about the security of your personal information on the internet? We all are, and thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, we’re more concerned than ever before. While having your Facebook profile show up in search engines for anyone talented enough to Google your name may be worrisome, it’s far from the worst case scenario. What if there was a website that pulled data from all of your social networking profiles, from Twitter to Flickr, and put it on display for anyone with curious eyes to see?

I hate to break it to you, but there is… introducing… Spokeo!

What Is A Spokeo?

Founded by a team of Stanford alumni in 2006, Spokeo didn’t start out pure evil. The original vision for was to be a social networking aggregator, a la FriendFeed. This would allow their users to follow their friends, family, and colleagues across several social networking platforms. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Well, Spokeo’s alarming business model began to unveil shortly thereafter. Redesigning their site in 2008, Spokeo made it possible for users to import their e-mail contacts and create friend lists. At this point, it became apparent that Spokeo had more information on you than you may be comfortable with, including LinkedIn profiles, Picasa photos, and personal blog posts.

This year, Spokeo revamped their site once again, transforming into the all-knowing, data-hungry monster it is today.

How Does It Work?

Type in a name, any name, and if you’re feeling specific feel free to narrow your search by adding in a city and state. Spokeo will then pull data from its massive scraped database of personal information and provide you with every detail you did, or didn’t want to know about that person’s life. Now, if you’re skeptical, you may think that this isn’t as bad as it seems — who cares if someone can search information that people have knowingly and willingly made available across social networking websites, right? Sure, that’s a valid argument, but (and this is a big BUT) it doesn’t stop at social networking sites.

Spokeo collects information not only from online profiles, but also from government censuses, property listings, and business websites. Sure, this information is all publically accessible, but did you really fill out your census assuming that your answers would be easily searchable on the internet? The real concern here lies in the fact that all of this information is taken from different sources, stacked together, and readily displayed for the average (or not so average) person to find.

What Information Does Spokeo Provide?

So what information, exactly, does Spokeo have on you? You may not want to know the answer. Let’s start with a rundown of the “basic profile” information: name, address, phone number, age, gender, ethnicity, zodiac sign, relationship, children, occupation, education level, hobbies, and home ownership status.

Moving on, anyone who looks you up will be provided with a list of your personal interests and hobbies that include: which sports you play, what kind of books you read, your taste in music, personality traits, what type of automobiles you prefer, and what type of investments you research. Oh, and that’s just the beginning.

Searchers are then given a breakdown of your household and the people living in it. How many people are living there? What type of home do you live in? Do you have children? A fireplace? A swimming pool? How long have you been living there? What kind of neighborhood do you live in? Most importantly, how much is your home worth?

Paid Options For The Ultra-Creep

For a measly $4.95 per month, potential stalkers, convicted felons, and bitter ex-lovers can get a bit more information on you. That is, if they’re crazy enough to provide this data devouring beast with their credit card information. Fear not, though, logic isn’t among the strongest of traits in the obsessive.

So what information is disclosed when you pay off Spokeo? For starters, your “basic profile” will be expanded upon to disclose your religion, political affiliation, birthday, and spoken languages. Moving on to your “wealth” info, Spokeo provides anyone willing to pay 5 bucks with your estimated income, investments, and mortgage value. What a steal!

Next up, your average psychopath can get expanded information on your “lifestyle indicators.” I can only imagine what kind of info lies behind closed gates.

Last, but certainly not least, a paid-membership to Spokeo provides customers with detailed (“full,” as they describe it) household information. Considering the fact that the standard household info contains the number of people living in your home, whether or not your house has a fireplace, central air/heating, and/or a swimming pool, you can only imagine what information 5 dollars will get you. Blueprints of your home? A live webcam feed of your living room? Probably lots of cool stuff that any web-savvy burglar would like to know.

Oh, and let’s not forget that your basic household information indicates whether or not you have children. It can only be assumed that paying customers will be given a few more details on that aspect of your life. With all of the data Spokeo has racked up, I’d hope that they at least do a criminal background check before giving anyone with internet access and a credit card such information. My guess, however, is that they don’t.

The Accuracy Of Spokeo's Data

Now, you may be curious about the accuracy of the data and personal information that Spokeo has on file. Without question, the data available at this time is far from “perfect.” Keep in mind, though, Spokeo’s new, enhanced version just launched a couple of months back.

In any case, here are some general notes I’ve compiled on the accuracy of Spokeo’s information after a bit of research:

  • Address & Phone Number: The addresses and phone numbers they have listed are very accurate, not surprising as they are pulled from the phone book.
  • Photos: The photos given are not accurate in the slightest, I have no idea where these (seemingly random) photos are coming from.
  • Basic Profile: Info in the basic profile information is, for the most part, accurate. The exception here is estimated home value (no, my home is not worth over a million dollars, unfortunately).
  • Lifestyle & Interests: The lifestyle and interests section is somewhat accurate, I’d say around 50 percent of what they have listed on there is correct (yes, I own dogs; no, I don’t enjoy knitting).
  • Household: The names and ages of household members are accurate, as well as the home description and length of residence. The estimated home value, again, is off.
  • Neighborhood: Containing median income, home value, as well as age, ethnicity, and occupation distribution, the neighborhood information looks accurate in general. Not much to add here.

A Cause For Concern?

Spokeo’s large database of personal information is definitely of concern. While there are several notable inaccuracies in the info they provide at this point, it’s important to recognize that they are just getting started. Without a doubt, Spokeo will do everything in their power to make their information more precise, and more detailed.

Obviously, you don’t want random lurkers, criminals, or creeps of other varieties to have easy access to all of your personal info, but you may not want current or potential employers to have it either. Thanks to Spokeo, with as little information as your name, the outcome of your job interview may be predetermined before even stepping foot in the door. These are just some of the potential problems that a website like Spokeo can cause in your life, if you think about it, the list is nearly endless.

How do you feel about your personal information being neatly compiled and readily available on the internet?


Anonymous January 29, 2011 at 11:42 AM  

I am serious about performing a reverse mobile lookup by going on the internet. I'm getting a lot of these cell phone calls by someone who I don't know and am interested who they think they are contacting. All types of strange texts and also messages are being left on my personal voice mail and it is starting to drive me insane. And so, exactly where do I locate these reverse cellphone research sites?