Recently I have seen a warning being circulated, mostly on Facebook and through email. It reads like this:
There’s a site called Spokeo.com that’s a new online USA phone book w/personal information: everything from pics you’ve posted on Facebook or web, your approx credit score, home value, income, age, even credit card #’s. Remove yourself by searching your name, find your page, copy the URL and then go to the bottom of the page and click on the Privacy link to remove yourself. Copy & re-post so your Facebook friends are aware.
A lot of people would read that and panic. “Oh no! What do I do, now that there is a site that has all of my private information!?”
Okay, remain calm. Let’s look at this rationally.
When I first read the above warning, I went to the website (www.spokeo.com) and searched on my own name.
First of all, without knowing the city I live in, the results would have been too many to be useful – there are hundreds of people with my same name in every state.
So I entered my name and the city where I live. Here is the information that I was able to “learn” about myself:
– Street address – correct. Of course, that is readily available from the phone book (that no one uses any more)
– Male – correct. It’s doesn’t exactly take a super computer to analyze a name and decide if it belongs to a male or female.
– Age: late 40s – correct. Bad news for people that like to lie about their age.
– Phone number – incorrect. The phone number they listed I have not had for a few years.
– Married – correct. This summer will be 27 years.
– House value of $191k – questionable. Who really knows the actual value of a house in the current real estate market. But anyone with your address can get an estimated value from probably a dozen different websites. The site was wrong about the number of bedrooms in our house (listed 3, we have 4).
– Property street view – incorrect. Again, anyone with an address can go to Google maps and get a satellite view, street view or map view of your house. But Spokeo hasn’t quite gotten the hang of that yet, at least not with me. The house and street they displayed are nowhere near me.
– Number of people in household – incorrect.
– How long at this address – incorrect.
Frankly, all of that information is pretty boring. Everything listed is information that is publicly available from multiple other areas.
What about all the “juicy” stuff? Information that’s listed under my name, such as:
- home purchase price
For that stuff, you need to click on the “See the Full Profile” button – at which point you are taken to a screen where you are invited to pay $35 for a yearly subscription. And even with the paid subscription, they are careful to say that the full report “may” include these details – you won’t know until you hand over some money.
Spokeo does nothing more than aggregate information that is already available for anyone to see; they just put it into one place to make it easier. Then they want to make some money by selling more of the same public information. Rather clever business model, if you ask me – get information for free, then sell it.
You can click on “Privacy” at the bottom of the page and have your information taken off the Spokeo site. But that’s pretty pointless – it’s all still available on all the other sites, where Spokeo grabbed it in the first place.
It wouldn’t surprise me if all the Spokeo “warnings” in circulation were actually originated by their own marketing people – look at all the free publicity and website traffic they are getting from it.
Snopes.com ran some trials with Spokeo, and they found that:
- The information returned to paying customers through Spokeo searches is not very detailed and is often inaccurate.
- Our repeated attempts to request the blocking of a particular record through Spokeo’s privacy page have found the procedure to be highly questionable: no attempt is made to verify that the person requesting the blocking of a record is the person identified by that record, our efforts have never resulted in a successfully blocked record, and Spokeo’s customer service group did not respond to any of our inquiries.
- Attempts to initiate record blocking are frequently met with error messages claiming that the provided e-mail address is invalid or that “in order to prevent abuse, we must limit the frequency of privacy requests.”
Do you have any experience with Spokeo? Let us know in the comments section below.