Before we jump into the specifics of what Spokeo.com is and what personal information it’s making available to the world wide web, let’s first talk about why your personal information is available in the first place.
There’s a little term called public record in the United States, where anyone has the First Amendment/common law right “to access court records to inspect and to copy.” At the federal level this is governed by the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) which has been known to be rife with exemptions and that little word called redaction.
The point here is that the right to access these documents is central to liberty and there’s nothing governing what’s done with this public information once it’s retrieved. This is where Spokeo comes in…
There’s been a lot of talk about Spokeo and I felt it was time to throw my two cents into the mix and tie it all into what we do here on ITS. In this digital age people are inherently worried about privacy and they have the right to be. With all the Social Security number leaks by major institutions and Identity Theft at an all time high, it’s natural for someone to take one look at a Website like Spokeo.com and be concerned.
Spokeo is nothing more than an aggregator of your personal information that’s already available through multiple sources, both online and offline. The service they provide is almost like a search engine, similar to Google or Bing. You simply type in either a name, email address, phone number, username or link it to your own friends in a email account and it returns personal information about them.
This can be where they live, other residents of their home, relationship status, home value, median income, photos, age, ethnicity, gender, generic lifestyle interests, Google Maps images and other information.
According to their privacy page you can remove your Spokeo listing from public searches for free by emailing them your name and email address, but I suspect this may just be a way for them to gather email addresses. This also wouldn’t stop your information from being available to the paid searches they offer or removing it from the third-party where they got your information from in the first place. A majority of that information is coming from public records like I mentioned earlier.
Let’s look as some examples of the type of public information that’s out there right now; available to anyone who knows where to look for it at (and not at Spokeo)
- Vital Records (Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates)
- Voter Registration (including what party you voted for)
- Divorce Decrees
- Real Estate Appraisal Records
- Professional and Business Licenses
- Consumer Protection Information
- Census Records
- Sex Offender Registration
- Criminal Records
- Anything on the Web that you or anyone else have associated with your name, address, etc.
Take a look at the last one on this list, because it’s what separates the traditional public information from this new age of online public information. This ties into previous articles we’ve written about on ITS concerning your digital identity and the implications of what you put out there for others to see. The places you enter this information into to share with all your “friends” shouldn’t be responsible for what you type about your personal life, YOU should be.
So taking a look at all this information that’s public record doesn’t seem as powerful when the individual items are separated, but when a company like Spokeo comes along and puts it in one place by simply searching for your name; the results appear fairly scary to the uninformed.
This isn’t a knock on anyone who is scared about this information being available, but you have to understand that this aggregation of public information is alot more powerful than it may seem.
Personal Information Bubble
Hopefully this is a reality check for those that blindly continue to add to what I call your Personal Information Bubble, without truly realizing the repercussions. Is all personal information you share on the Web bad? Of course not, but what needs to be in the back of your mind as you type each keystroke is that this information is going to be publicly available forever!
There’s always places like Facebook that have certain “safeguards” to keep your private conversations only available to those you call “friends,” but seriously. You’re the one that should be ultimately responsible for what you write on the Web and what you choose to share. Why should it be the fault of a FREE social media outlet to 100% restrict the availability of what you type? It shouldn’t, period.
One good thing about this digital age of information brokering and aggregation is that it’s making it harder for those wishing to remain nefariously anonymous like those who skate out on Child Support or try to get a job without disclosing criminal information on their job application. Companies that offer background checks are pulling from this same pool of public records to tell employers about potential employees.
The internet is both a blessing and a curse; it’s given us access to an unlimited stream of information at our fingertips, but also made it easy for us to use that against ourselves without truly understanding what we’re doing. Hopefully this article has shed some light on your Personal Information Bubble that continues to grow each and every day.
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