Spokeo – TMI or handy tool?

In this digital age, our personal information is readily accessible to all – often whether you choose to share it or not.  I’ve been seeing a lot of hubbub lately about a new website called Spokeo, which calls itself a “social network aggregator.”  This seemed like a good idea – I’m all for simplifying information and the channels though which we get it.  That was until I visited Spokeoand searched for my own name.  Immediately two address hits for my name in my state were shown – both my mother’s house and my own.  Innocent enough – sites like Zabasearch and others have shared those kind of public records for years now.  Then I scrolled down…age, occupation, relationship status, interests, how long I’ve lived in my home, a PHOTO OF MY HOME…whoa, whoa, wait a minute.  This is looking more and more like stalker paradise.  Where are they getting this info?

According to the Spokeo Privacy Page:

Spokeo People Search finds only publicly available information by default. Previously this information had been scattered across the Web and ignored by major search engines.  Spokeo is the first service to aggregate this user-generated content from over 40 Web services, giving you new insight into your friends’ online content.

So essentially they are using the information that I’ve put on the internet, plus some public records (particularly Google Street View) that I don’t have control over.  Most of the information listed for me was incorrect, and I think that’s because of my diligence about my privacy settings on various websites.  A word to the wise: don’t expect your social networking sites to keep your privacy by default; in fact, the default settings are usually the least private.  Facebook, for example, allows uploaded photos to be seen by anyone on the internet by default – even those without a Facebook account.  Don’t forget your privacy settings for tagged photos of yourself – if a friend has relied on those default settings and tags a photo of you from last year’s beach vacation or tipsy at the company Christmas party – BAM!  It’s on the internet for your boss, your kid’s teacher, the whole world, and Spokeo, to see.

While it’s impossible to completely hide from anyone or anything on the internet, especially if you are a fan of social networking, I think it’s important to make any would-be evil-doers work to find all this info about us.  Let’s not hand it to them on a silver platter.

To remove your profile from Spokeo, as I did, visit www.spokeo.com/privacy and fill out the online form.  You’ll need the URL of your search result and you will have to provide your email address, presumably to verify your identity.  You will receive an email with a URL link to finish the process.  You’ll need to complete these steps for each listing that appears for your name.

For more tips on protecting your online privacy on Facebook (since it’s the big daddy of them all!), see this great article from The New York TimesThe 3 Facebook Settings Every User Should Check Now

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