Spooky Spokeo…how much does it know?

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 ūüôā

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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3D printing – a brave new world or a geeky fad?

Picture this:
Your car breaks down outside a one-horse town in the middle of nowhere. Instead of waiting a week for your car to be fixed you are on your way again in a matter of hours. Why? Thanks to 3D printing, the local mechanic can simply download a plan of your faulty part, “print” it off and bob’s your uncle!

Ok, so we’re not quite there yet, but we are getting pretty close..

What is 3D printing?
It’s exactly what you think it means – printing a object, like a car part, in it’s full 3D form. Instead of ink the printer uses cartridges containing the raw material needed, such as plastic or metal, to build up the object layer by layer according to the given design. It sounds like sci-fi but it really does exist!

3D printing has been around for a few years in various forms (this is a good introductory article on what 3D printing is) but it’s hit the headlines lately because prices of printers have been dropping fast and soon the average person will be able to afford one. This will be very interesting! Some of the most popular 3D printers are open source – which means there may be no big corporations reaping huge profits off their backs. How refreshing would that be?

What will happen to copyright and patents?

Who knows! This article on 3d-printing-the-new-frontier-of-piracy is about a guy 3D printing his own warhammer figures (an online gaming thing) and being sued by the games creators. However, if in the future everyone has their own 3D printer and you have millions of people printing spare parts for their various electronic devices instead of paying to have them fixed, how would that possibly be regulated?

Will they be used for good or evil?

As with everything else, probably both. 3D printers will soon be used to fix medical machines and save lives in remote areas and the third world and to create life-saving drugs on demand even tailored to an individuals biochemistry (see printing-technology-could-let-you-print-your-pharmaceuticals-at-home for more on this topic). On the same note they will also be used to create street drugs, guns, chemical weapons or even a copy of your car key. See criminals_find_new_uses_for_3d_printing for a good article on the dangers of 3D printing.

Will it be like living on Star Trek?

Will we all be printing our own food and supplies a few years from now? Maybe… but while the printers may come down in price, the reduction in price is also likely to result in a reduction in quality and accuracy. Those looking forward to Star Trek type food replicators will probably have to wait a bit longer.

One for the trekkies – pan fried catfish anyone?

Hard core techies and hobbyists are already tinkering with 3D printing of everyday products and devices but for the average person it’s still too time consuming and complex, much easier to go shopping.

Glass Skyscraper Project Mies Van Der Rohe 1922. Photo via The Lying Truth and http://www.ArchDaily.com

Future potential or fad?
The worlds experts seem to agree that 3D printing has the potential to radically change the medical, dental, construction, pharmaceutical and engineering industries and that’s just for starters. The biggest losers might well be corporations, as they could lose a level of control over patents, copyrights and pricing. The winners will be those who control the raw materials (the material in the cartridges that the printers use), and pretty much everyone who can benefit from the¬†¬†freer distribution of technology.

What do you think? Will 3D printing be a game changer?



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BYOD: what does it mean?

How many people at your workplace use their personal iPad? Quite a few do at mine and they can’t even connect them to the company network. They can get round this by emailing information to and from their work account or using flash drives. The company I work for has no plan in the short-term to allow anyone connect a personal device to the company network – yet there are more iPads and personal tablets being carted around every week.

What does BYOD mean?

Technically Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) implies that any personal device can be used at work – tablet, smart phone or computer, but the reality at the moment is that people want to be able to use their tablet, most commonly their iPad, on the company network.

Realistically resistance to BYOD is futile – tablets are getting cheaper, the market is expanding and gen y are going to do what they want anyway – so why are companies trying to resist the inevitable?

Why are some companies against BYOD?

Well, here’s a few reasons:

1. Security issues – BYOD could stand for bring your own disease (as in virus) and your device may not be as secure as a company issued device. What if it gets left in a bar and someone is able to access sensitive data?

2. Invalid Licensing – certain software licences may only allow installation on company owned computers

3. Increased Support Costs – what if something goes wrong with the device? Is the company’s help desk obliged to fix it? What if they can’t, will that employee be unable to work?

4. Loss of Data – What if an employee leaves the company – can the company wipe the device? Including all that employee’s photos and other personal stuff?

5. Illegal activity – What if the employee downloads pirated music or movies or god forbid something worse?

Why should companies allow BYOD?

These, and pretty much any other issues have been asked and answered by all the companies that have embraced BYOD. Most issues can be covered off by a BYOD policy regarding reasonable use. There’s a good article here on what needs to be covered.

On the other hand, if the company doesn’t allow BYOD, employees are going to do it anyway, and without any policy in place there are more likely to be security issues and breeches. So what’s the real reason for their reluctance? Probably cost.

Back in the day it was thought that BYOD would save a company money – I mean, if employees are supplying their own equipment it should, right? The reality has proved otherwise it seems, as the cost of supporting extra mobile devices has driven up ancillary costs.

If this is the case, why should a company embrace BYOD?

For the very simple reason that it makes employees happy.

Does anyone remember those companies just 10 years ago who didn’t give employees email access? Yeah, I wouldn’t have worked there either.

Does your company encourage BYOD? Is it a good idea? Does it work?



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Do you have a passcode lock on your smartphone?

I read something the other day that made me feel incredibly dumb.  It was a short article on five ways to secure your mobile phone.  The most obvious one was to always have the passcode lock switched on. Why? If you lose your phone the person who finds it will be able to access your email, contacts, facebook, twitter and all other linked accounts and possibly play hell with your life.  Imagine the trauma if you had to shut down all your accounts and start again?




I had used the passcode lock on my old phone but out of sheer laziness I had never bothered to set it on my new phone. ¬†It was soooo much easier to just swipe instead of entering that pesky 4 digit code. ¬†Boy did I feel dumb…..


Passcode is now duly switched on.


Apparently 62% of smartphone users do not use password protection on their smartphones (Javelin Strategy & Research).


How about you, are you part of the 62%? Or do you have your phone fully secured? Any other tips for securing a phone?









Digital Parents Blog Carnival


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What is a QR code?

Have you seen a lot of these lately?

They’re everywhere! ¬†I had seen plenty and knew they contained information but had never actually scanned one until this evening.

To find out what’s behind the picture all you need is a smart phone and a QR scanning app.

So I downloaded QR Reader for iPhone (a free app) from the App Store and went in search of QR codes. You simply start the reader app and hold your phone camera over the QR picture. I found them a bit fiddly at times to scan, and holding the phone landscape instead of portrait over the code seemed to work better. Given I’m a novice it’s most likely me not the app whose at fault, and I would imagine scanning from paper is easier than scanning a computer screen.

So once you scan one of these, what happens?

Well, first the app decodes what you’ve scanned and then shows you the result. You might see¬†some text, get a picture, get a coupon/discount voucher, someones contact details,¬†be redirected to a¬†web page, a twitter profile, a geographical location, “like” a facebook page or watch a video – to name but a few examples.

They can be put anywhere really. On massive billboards, sides of cars, on people (tattoos ?!?, clothes, nails), on business cards, in newspapers, in restaurants, on websites – the possibilities only constrained by imagination and potential for embarrassment.

They could be so much more effective than flyers when you think about it. Once you have the information on your phone, you’ll have it to hand whenever you think you need whatever the code creator was selling.

QR reader for iPhone also allows you to generate your own QR codes.¬†If you try my sample above you will be redirected to my brother’s brilliant crowdsourced music video website www.45sound.com (family plug!).

QR stands for Quick Read. These codes have been in popular use for really only the last 2 years but have been around since 1994. ¬†They were invented in Japan (surprise!) by Toyota (surprise!) and were used to track car parts on¬†conveyor¬†belts. Eighteen years later it’s a global¬†phenomenon.

If you believe some of the stats elsewhere on the web, in June 2011 14 million QR codes were scanned in the US, 60% of the scanners were male, most between 18 and 55, most earned over $100k p.a. and almost 50% of the items scanned were discount coupons!

Now that I’m getting the hang of it, I’m off to scan myself a few freebies…

Happy scanning!

What do you think – fad or here to stay? Have you scanned any good QR codes recently?


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