Spooked by Spokeo
The most recent such effort, Spokeo, offers a directory service that is also an aggregation of information on individuals, collected from public Websites. No laws are being broken here, apparently, and yet I suspect anyone who views their profile on Spokeo for the first time is going to be alarmed.
It wasn't just the details that surprised me, although they were surprising. My address and home phone number are listed, even though the phone number is registered to my husband's name, not mine, and our last names are different. Personal details such as age and degree of education are listed, along with interests that appear to have been gleaned from where I shop online.
If that's not creepy enough, the Spokeo folks were thoughtful enough to include a photo of my house -- not an overhead, mind you, but an actual picture of the front of the house, drawn from Google Maps, that also lets you look at my street (full of potholes right now) and my neighbor’s homes.
There are many inaccuracies in the fine print of Spokeo's listing. According to them, my home lacks central heat or air-conditioning, and yet is worth more than $1 million. (But then, most homes listed on Spokeo are worth more than $1 million, which makes me wonder if the geniuses that launched this thing are aware of the US housing market crisis).
Some of the mistakes I found were funny. On my sister's listing, her teenage daughter is listed by name (creepy) but identified as a 70-plus-year-old parent. I'd love to know the origin of that mistake.
Taken individually, the details of my life splayed out on Spokeo aren't significant, but when aggregated, they represent a substantial violation of my privacy, which is why I immediately requested that my profile be removed. It took two such requests, but I finally succeeded -- only after giving the Spokeo folks an email address so they could verify the process.
I'm not kidding myself here -- this is one hole in a very leaky dike. Maybe what we ought to do at this point is stop pretending there is any privacy in the Internet era. Certainly any attempt to regulate how one set of businesses uses consumer information has to take into account how everyone does -- which may be impossible to do.
— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading