Perhaps you may have heard of Spokeo? I assume it is pronounced Spo-Keo rather than Spoke-Oh. It is billed as “not your grandma’s phonebook”. It claims to have been around since 2005, but I have only just now heard of it. I haven’t seen much press, but it certainly is getting word-of-mouth buzz. And not in a good way. Much of it is more concern than interest.

With Spokeo, you can drill down to a person and see marital status, names of family members, hobbies, home value, and other atypical White Pages info. In some cases you can even see a photo of the person’s residence. Think of it as a mash-up between White Pages, Zillow, Facebook, Google Streetview, and any number of gov’t or public information sources.

The fact that the information is available does not bother me. Or put more accurately, if it is a concern of mine, I don’t begrudge Speokeo. With yottabytes – yes, that’s a word – of data out there, I’m surprised this has not happened sooner! Spokeo just took it upon themselves to aggregate. Unless they are making things up (and I’m not ready to concede that they aren’t), the real fault lies with the entities that originally made that info available. Maybe it was my bank, my mortgage company, or some government entity. Regardless, if they have made my personal info publicly available without taking appropiate precautions or informing me of my privacy rights (with little mailing inserts that I ignore and throw away), then the fault lies there. Heck, maybe it was me who made the data available!? It is not Spokeo’s fault for just using what is there.

The fact that the information might be incorrect is mildly irritating, bordering on laughable. According to them, I am a clerical worker who enjoys reading with my wife in my million dollar home. I don’t particularly mind inaccuracies when it comes to something like my divorce, but I suppose if they posted a false credit score I’d be mad. And as for that felony, hey, I was never actually charged. But imagine my surprise to see that they actually peg me as “interested in politics”. That’s it, I’m suing! Or what if they added a mash-up with the Megan’s Law web site and I was now accidentally push-pinned as a pedophile? So now I take that back. This is more than just mildly irritating. The ease at which data is aggregated and made accessible, correct or not, has people upset.

And what really bothers me most is that they market their product as a research tool. Whether you browse for free or pay for detailed data, the fact that someone might be using this [incorrect] data to make conclusions about me is very troubling. They claim that “Data pieced from public domains may not be complete, but it gives an objective, third-party perspective, which is valuable for people research purposes”. I don’t think I am in favor of that brand of objectivity. And now that I know they use Census data, maybe I won’t be filling out my form after all – not if this is what they are going to do with the data. To their credit, they do provide a way to opt-out and get your listing removed. I plan on doing this. In fact, my wife demands it!

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