Like many websites Spokeo is an aggregator, it compiles information from multiple sources. The problem is that the information Spokeo aggregates is considered by some to be private information.
Although some say putting people’s private information all in one place is a bad thing, the information is supposedly gleaned from public sources. The fact that aggregators can collect as much as they do indicates that private information is not as private as some may think.
An example of where the third-party information comes from: Personal photos and emails are taken from social networking sites like Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook; phone numbers and addresses are taken from the phone book; home ownership and other municipal information is taken from public databases; and information about in-laws may be taken from wedding announcements in the newspaper (one woman claimed the site listed the names of her in-laws in her profile without her permission).
Though the way Spokeo gathers information is not entirely inappropriate, the service some pay for may be a scam. For the past few years, tech blogs, and even Snopes, have reported that the information gathered by the aggregator is often inaccurate. Because of the number of people with a given name and the use of pseudonyms and plays on names some use on social networking sites, as well as the fact that many people have more than one email address, the information collected by the aggregator doesn’t necessarily get filtered to represent the correct person. A TechCrunch writer in 2006 attempted to use the site for the social networking tools it claimed at that time only to find that it couldn’t pull her MySpace information, it pulled someone else’s, even though she was giving it her exact information to do so.
Spokeo has been aggregating information for years, though the warning emails only started circulating recently. Starting as a way to stalk your friends, it’s now the site to stalk strangers. However, whether you get what you pay for and whether you can actually be removed is debatable, leading many to call the site a scam. It is likely that it just isn’t well designed.
How do you keep your information private in the age of aggregator sites? Be aware of the privacy settings on your social networking sites. Don’t put up any information or pictures you don’t want public. When in doubt, don’t post it.