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Spokeo: Privacy and Frustration

Thursday, December 30th, 2010 by | Filed Under: Security Help, Social Networking, Using The Internet
 
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I recently discovered Spokeo, an online reference that contains more personal information than most people would probably like to see gathered in one place. Spokeo describes themselves as, “Not your grandma’s phone book”. I’ll say. The information available for free includes address, phone number, street view of your home (if available), estimated income (we found this estimation to be way off), estimated value of your home (again, not very accurate),and names, ages, and relationships to family members (this was correct in the few that we viewed).

Searching can be done under any of the five tabs; Name, Email, Phone, Username, or Friends. The Name tab reveals more information than the others, but each contains bits related to the subject. However, we found different answers to the same questions, by looking under different tabs.


If you choose to search by Name, you’ll see, under the Basic Info tab, the full name, address (and occasionally previous addresses), phone number, children’s names, sex, age, marital status, home value, and hobbies.

The Property tab includes either a satellite view or street view of the home. Also included here are the estimated home value, lot size, home size, and the number of bedrooms and baths.

The Family tab includes the family name, the length of time at the present address, and details about the number of family members. Also included is a simple family tree.

For a monthly fee, you can find even more details about the listings. The information under the remaining 3 tabs requires payment.

Privacy

If you’re concerned about your privacy, Spokeo offers an option to remove your name from public view. However, all the information is still available at the same sources from which they acquired theirs. I chose to remove my name from their public listing, and this process proved to be nearly trouble free. There’s a Privacy link at the bottom of the page. Click on that, and fill out the required fields. These include the URL (internet address) where this information was found, and an email address. Once you’ve completed this, an email will be delivered to you, in which you can click a link to complete the removal process.

Frustration

Privacy and frustration don’t directly relate to each other, except in the way they became intertwined in the process described in this article. However, both are frequent sources of anxiety to many computer users, so I thought the following was worth mentioning.

Since removing my name from the public listing was relatively easy, I happily agreed to remove someone else’s name. This time things didn’t go quite as smoothly. I followed the steps above and waited for the confirmation email. In the email was the message, To complete the removal process, please click here. I did…which took me back to the Spokeo Privacy page, where I was asked to follow the instructions again. I did. Checked the email, clicked the link, returned to the Privacy page. This cycle repeated itself several times.

I then proceeded to ignore lesson number one, regarding problems with computers.

Walk away. This is sound advice. Wish I’d listened.

At about the time I’d completed the fourth cycle, I got a call from the person whose name I was attempting to remove from the list. By this time, what little hair I have left was beginning to catch fire and I was quickly learning new and regrettable ways to express myself.

Walk away. Advice that continued to go unheeded.

After about 6 cycles, I finally walked away. Later, I went back, clicked on a different link in the email (something I’d unsuccessfully attempted earlier) and, poof, the name was removed.

The bottom line on Spokeo is that, yes you can have your name removed, but the information is still out there and someone else will get it and publish it. I ran across the following line in an article about Spokeo and wish I’d thought of it myself. “In short, removing your personal information from display by Internet aggregators isn’t a one-time deal, but rather more like a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole.”

There’s also the question of accuracy, and inaccurate statements may be as potentially damaging as accurate ones. For example, our listed income was significantly higher than our paychecks indicate. While I wouldn’t mind having the extra funds, I’m not sure I want other people, particularly those of questionable character, thinking we’re richer than we are.

As for the frustration, just walk away. Turn off your computer and do something else for a while. I wish I’d remembered that.

~Kevin

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