Spokeo is a “Personal Information Site” that uses deep web crawlers to find information publicly available on the web to build a profile of you, yes you. And me, and anyone else that has ever signed up for anything on the web.
I’d never heard of it but started seeing it in search results over the last few weeks. We have some major changes happening at work so I was googling a few names (as you do) to see what linkedin had to say about them. I kept seeing these “Spokeo” results so clicked in to have a look.
“Not your Grandma’s phone book”
Spokeo is a people search engine that aggregates white-pages listings and public records. Luckily for us non-Americans, the name search is limited to US residents. You can search on an email address for non-US residents which will tell you a bit more, but then it wants to charge you for the privilege. The urban legend website lists quite a few similar sites, the most comprehensive (for free) seeming to be pipl. Urban legend also mentions concerns about so-called invasions of privacy – but from what I can see (and read), all the information available is public anyway.
How much does it know?
I come from a large Irish Catholic family so put the lot into pipl to see what came out. I put both names and primary email addresses.
Mum – nothing even though she has a gmail address.
Dad – ditto
Sis 1 – lives in the US so they had her age, work address and Spokeo even had a google map of her house (this site returned very little for free for anyone else), but then again her address is available in the white pages.
Sis 2 – not a lot, only found one social network profile but she uses a wide variety of email addresses and online profiles, and lives in Dublin
Sis 3 – found a load of her public profiles including tweets and facebook pages – she runs an online wine business in Shenzhen, China (www.crushedgrapes.cn) so would be delighted I’m sure.
Bro – again, lots of tweets and public profiles – but again, he runs a live music service (www.45sound.com).
Me – pipl returned my age from my bebo profile (I’d forgotten I was on that site) which was a bit disturbing as I try to keep that private, not that I’m embarrassed of course, merely for security purposes.. Anyway, I went to the effort of getting my bebo password reset only to find that I can’t remove the year of birth – how annoying! Apart from that, again I wasn’t too concerned by what it found.
So why are people freaking out?
From what I can see, two reasons – firstly, Spokeo (and pipl etc.) gathers all the data it can find about you on the web, so if you use the same email address and your real name for all your online memberships, it will probably build quite a comprehensive picture of you which could be a bit confronting. If you don’t, it won’t. It could be used by someone stalking you, but then again, they could find all that info about you anyway if they looked hard enough.
Secondly – there are rumours out there that if you go onto the Spokeo website it downloads cookies that start tracking your movements and therefore gather more data about you. Now, I don’t really believe that, but since it wouldn’t kill me to delete all my cookies for the last hour, I’m going to do it anyway 🙂
So if you’re curious have a look at the sites below:
Did they have much info about you? Anything that freaked you out? Should I be more concerned? Let me know!
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