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Like Privacy? You May Have Some Opting Out To Do.

Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean Spokeo isn't showing strangers your house, and spreading false info about you.

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Have you ever looked at Spokeo? If not, you might want to check it out – that is if you’re concerned about your online privacy. There’s a good chance they have a profile on you, and it may have more information than you care to have publicly accessible in any one place. And that’s just the free part, if you pay, you can get access to even more information. 

Do you approve of Spokeo hosting this information? Tell us what you think

Spokeo would not let us interview them, but they did tell us: 

"The driving force behind our product was to create a more efficient and user-friendly people-search engine that would allow users to locate information and keep up with their friends more easily."

"It’s important to understand, however, that offering a more efficient mechanism by which to pull together information is not the same as providing greater access to personal information."

We spoke with privacy advocate Dr. Larry Ponemon, founder of privacy research firm, The Ponemon Institute. "From a privacy perspective, it’s kind of a scary event when you, as in individual don’t have control over your personal information," he tells WebProNews. "In a nutshell, we all feel like we should somehow be involved in making that decision – whether information about us is being shared with third-parties and organizations. And Spokeo is in the business of selling information about people, as I understand it, without getting any consent or any advanced opt-in or opt-out. We are basically powerless against organizations like Spokeo."

By the way, your home address is likely included in your Spokeo profile, which is conveniently aided by Google Maps Street View, so anyone searching for you can virtually go right up to your front door. Street View itself has had plenty of privacy battles over the years on its own. Those worried about that should just love Spokeo’s integration. 

"There’s also a secondary issue, which is really equally as scary," says Ponemon. "That’s the possibility that information used and collected about you, by companies like Spokeo, is in fact inaccurate information…can you imagine information that is inaccurate, and then people making decisions about you on the basis of not the truth, but inaccurate information? And you again, as a consumer, are powerless to do anything to even change the information known to be inaccurate."

By browsing the profile created about me on the site, it is clear that there are indeed plenty of inaccuracies in the information, which really makes me wonder how many more inaccuracies are available for paying customers. 

As our own Abby Johnson mentions in the video above, the inaccuracies of Spokeo’s information likely stem from public databases that are not maintained.

"I understand the business model that Spokeo is in, and I’m sure they’re going to make a ton of money if they have the legal right to continue what they do, but from a privacy and an information and ethics perspective, this is is a big problem," says Ponemon. 

"The general issue in privacy litigation is that you have to establish harm, and the problem in many of the cases – and this is why a lot of cases get dismissed early – is because it’s hard to demonstrate harm, when in fact your information is inaccurate or it’s misused or you’re not involved in the decision for the organization to collect and use that information. It seems that the key issue is demonstrating harm," he continues. "The problem is that you can’t look at harm in a short timeline, because right now you have inaccurate information, so what’s the harm? Maybe there’s almost no harm to you. But mabye five or six or seven years from now, there will be an employment decision made based on the infromation contained today in Spokeo. Maybe you’ll be denied a job or maybe you’ll be denied a loan…"

He thinks organizations like the FTC will take a close look. 

A Spokeo spokesperson told WebProNews, "As part of our commitment to privacy, Spokeo offers an opt-out feature that is faster and easier to complete than most other people search sites. All that is required of users is an email verification process, not submitting hard copies of driver’s licenses, Social Security Numbers, or other forms of identity via fax or mail."

The opt-out process does appear to work. I went through it, and my profile disappeared. Given that Spokeo’s such a household name, this should set everyone’s mind at ease.  (sarcasm intended, in case that wasn’t obvious

I’ll have to remember to check back from time to time and make sure it stays gone. 

You can read Spokeo’s privacy policy here

By the way, Spokeo’s traffic has been skyrocketing, with over 9 million unique visitors in January, according to Compete.

Do you find Spokeo’s practices to be a violation of privacy? Share your thoughts.

Like Privacy? You May Have Some Opting Out To Do.
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  • Sin

    How did you opt out Chris? Can’t find a thing. They have 15 year old info. on me; outdated. Under my name, they have the address for my first ex-wife, 2 ex-wives ago as well as my then phone number. Need my profile removed completely, not updated. Government needs to crack down on these guys by enabling tougher privacy laws.

    • Chris Crum

      If you click the privacy link at the bottom of the page, there is a form.

      • AddassaMari

        Thanks for the Opt-out tip. I used it and got an email that said the listing has been removed. When I tried to enter other URLS for the listing, I got a message that says that the listing has been removed. I sure hope that is correct.

        • Guest

          I went and put my name in. A list of addresses cam e up – some as old as twenty years ago. I looked for the opt out button, but all there was on the page was the list and a map with my address.
          When I went to the next page, it was a form for me to buy into Spokeo.
          I saw no opt out button.
          Thank you.

          • Turner

            after you go to the page that has the info about you, look in the lower right of the page for the tiny word “option”. Click on that and it will give a place to add your email address. enter your email and they will send you a link in your email. follow instructions and you are removed instantly.

            turner

          • http://www.lehmanscientific.com Guest

            Also, to remove your information, at the bootom of each page is a small link, “Privacy”.
            That will also allow you to opt-out.

  • Guest

    These bottom feeders are reluctant to remove you. We need congressional action to make aggregator sites like this one strictly opt in, not beg to opt out and be ignored. Perhaps we can orchestrate a few server overload issues for them. We are just the group who know how. They put their profit before your privacy. They put millions at risk.

  • Walker

    They’ve got eight references for me going back 15 years — all wrong. The latest one is stale by three years and has the wrong country. I’d like for them to delete all of these. How?

  • AddassaMari

    They chose a good name for the site, because it is really spooky to see the amount of information available for free. The worst or best part, depending on your point of view, is that they admit that the information is unverified. Still there is a good level of accuracy. I would be worried about what people can buy about me and my family. Makes me wonder where they get all this information from, it can’t all be from social networks because the labels look like marketing demographics labels. Just wondering…

  • http://www.alpha1.biz Carl

    Hey guys thanks for the info. I had to remove my name also keep up the good
    work and thanks for being a great service.

  • http://www.lookman.biz Guest

    I am not in Spokeo because I do not live in the US. I am however in 123people.

  • Turner

    I was listed in Spokeo 3 places. They maded it easy to opt out but the only problem is, you re limited to 2 per day so I had to go beck the next day and opt out the other listing. “But what about the thousands of people there that do not know about spokeo? ‘Thanks for spreading the worrd about this website. I noticed another person here said something about 123people, Iwill chekc that out next.

  • http://www.pickmydecor.com Guest

    The information available on the general website is information that is available everywhere else on the web – it just makes it convenient to locate it. However, I’m a little concerned about it showing the names of family members. I can tell that some of the information ‘sources’ come from Facebook, so that leaves me to wonder if kids, 14+ years old (and younger if they lie about their age) that have a FB account could be ‘found’ using this spokeo… something to check out if you’re a parent (mine are all grown).

  • shon

    Ok, they remove your listing in real time when opting out but this is really spooky. In your profile, they list family members as well as people who have lived with you in that same house 2 decades ago; that’s scary. Yeah, “some of that” can be found on the web but it is a pain to find it! I can’t find anything for my name on Google.

    I know some people would say, “if you have nothing to hide, you don’t have anything to worry about”. I’d say to them, yeah, tell that to my buddy and his wife who were shot 20 times after he opened his apartment door 2 years ago. Drug dealer hit men were looking for the previous apartment renter and wiped them both out!

    Thanks Chris for reporting on this. Now we needs instructions how to remove profiles from 123people? Where ares Anonymous and script kiddies when they are truly needed!!!

  • http://www.bambooweb.info/ Guest

    I wonder where they get their information?
    In their free information they have me listed as married and 1 adult in the household?

    When I want to sell my house can I use thier number because they have my house listed for over twice the appraised value.

    I did not look at the full report but I would not trust anything that they have.

  • http://www.solo-e.com/blog Terri Z

    Thanks for the heads up. What a menace! I tried to opt out multiple pages (I have a number of usernames, etc.) and it limited me to two per email address. Luckily I have multiple addresses so I could get around that…but what a time-waster!

    This kind of thing shouldn’t be legal.

    Off to check my kid’s info now…

    • http://www.solo-e.com/blog Terri Z

      …now the spammers have someplace easy to go to find “valid” email addresses. Oh boy.9

  • Guest

    Just to be curious i typed in my deceased mother of twenty years and wala it popped up with here last address and had aged her twenty years wtf! where do they get thier data and what type of engines do they use? spooky to see my Moms name pop up like that.

  • http://www.beautifulwoman.com.au AussieGal

    From what I could see this only applies to people who reside in the USA. Maybe that could have been mentioned in the article.

  • Guest

    It must be a devil-sent present for thieves and tax gatherers.
    I am happy they haven’t expanded to Europe (yet).
    Bless you for warning us.
    G.

  • Guest

    I joined and pulled all the information on myself – fortunately there isn’t much there. Unfortunately most of it is incorrect, my “residence” information is based on the physical location of my PO Box, they show that I have 1 child – which I do not. They show me as Protestant – which I am not, and in my recollection have not stated a religious preference anywhere online.

    With any luck employers will soon realize the inaccuracies here and look for a more reliable source.

  • NightRider

    Just went to the Spokeo site, though using your name is restricted to the U.S. your email is not. Thankfully they could not track my ip address to my home address, it only showed thee entry point into Australia and the IP address ogf the ISP server. At the same time it did reveal some of the blogs and social nertworks I belong too. What concerns me is this information is available in one spot and if you pay a fee it can gather more information. They should not be allowed to do this, I regard it as an invaasion of my privacy and I should be the only one to say what is and what is not given out concenring my views etc. This would be a gold mine for market researchers or govt. agencies to keep tabs on people.

  • Anne

    I searched my name &found entries-all wrong. My 27 yr.old son is listed as living at my address as head of household & in his 50s. He has never resided at this address or even in this state! I searched other family members & one sister is listed as an African-American laborer. She is a white professional 10 yrs younger than listed. Not one listing I checked was correct. Forget privacy issues- the site needs to be shut down because it is woefully flawed.

  • http://www.marketingweb.com.au Matthew Cummins

    I’m in Australia, and it didn’t really have anything on me of concern – even based on my email addresses it had nothing more than you could find in a normal Google search.

    However looking at a few people with the same name as me (out of interest), there was some definate weird info – including someone claiming that there is an adult female in her 50′s called John Cummins. I mean it’s possible, but……….

  • http://www.purplerosecashware.com Dee@purplerosecashware

    I think that from an Internet Application point of view it’s a brilliant idea but the execution is flawed, as the information is incorrect in many cases and cannot be trusted.

    From a privacy point of view, it’s disturbing. I chose to opt out.

    Dee.

  • http://www.lehmanscientific.com Guest

    Wow, I just looked up my name on Spokeo. Maybe every day after I leave for work a new couple moves into my house. Spokeo lists me and two people I never heard of as living at my house. I already “opted-out”. I just hope that I don’t start receiving SPAM addressed to the “others” (sounds spooky), but I probably will!

  • JR

    How do you know that their “Opt-Out” method of asking for “eMail Verification” is not just a way for them to “harvest” eMail addresses. Now… they not only have your “collected” information… they now have an official way of connecting that bogus information it to you via your email address! What guarantees that they won’t use your eMail address – which they didn’t have previously – for other nefarious purposes?

  • http://www.jumbocdinvestments.com/ ChrisCD

    The info may be available elsewhere, but it doesn’t mean I want one source to be able to give it all together so easily. That is what is so disturbing. At least they have an opt-out feature. I wonder if they will get a clue when they start getting tons of opt-outs. Although, I doubt it. The number of people who even know about it are so small.

    cd :O)

  • http://www.jumbocdinvestments.com/ ChrisCD

    I received an update from another blog that was posting about mylife.com. Seems very similar. They also have an opt-out, but I haven’t tried it yet to see how easy it is. They mentioned in their support response that the form needs at least two former addresses input.

    I just don’t think these websites should be able to aggregate and then sell our personal data without us first performing an opt-in.

  • Olia

    I ABSOLUTELY 100% FIND spokeo’s (spokeo.com) and all other companies like it practices, to be a complete violation of our rights. No one should have the right to sell our personal & private information. We live in a country where we have rights and those rights should include our right to privacy. We do not live in a communist country where people do not have rights. This is appalling to me and scary. The thought of any criminal having the ability to obtain anyone’s personal information from companies like these (including your address, previous addresses, your age, telephone numbers, email addresses, what you earn, what your debt is, the names of your siblings, etc) is so incredible scary and disturbing. This should not be allowed. Get on board and fight to shut these companies down. Follow this Facebook Page to help win this fight and also spread the word!
    Here is the link:
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Help-Shut-Down-Companies-That-Make-Your-Private-Information-Public/209022152443326?ref=ts

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