Ye Olde Greate Aggregator Panic (Spokeo.com)

The latest Facebook panic:

ATTN! There’s a site called spokeo.com that’s a new online USA phone book w/personal information: everything from pics you’ve posted on FB, your home address, credit score, home value, income, age, etc. REMOVE yourself by searching your name, copy the URL of your page, go to the bottom right corner of the page and click on the Privacy button to remove yourself. Copy & re-post so your FB friends are aware.

My reaction: YAWN.

Um, seriously, folks, spokeo is not the threat. Your own habits and those of your state and local government are the threats, if you’d like to look at it like that.

Spokeo is an aggregator. They run a “spider” or robotic software which scours databases and websites, looking for names and phone numbers and email addresses and regular addresses and blends all this together with public databases to produce reports, which they will then sell.

Go ahead. Go tell Spokeo that the information they have is correct (you’re doing that by “removing” yourself). It’s ok. PeopleSearch, ZabaSearch, PPLFinder, WhitePagesUSA and many many others will be happy to continue to list you – and not all of them have ways for you to “remove” yourself either.

You see, you’ve provided all the information collected by these data-miners. Look at those magazine or newspaper subscriptions. Recall those little mail-in cards, and questionnaires as part of renewing? Recall all those sweepstakes where you just answered a few questions (and included your email address and/or phone number)? How about some of those warranty cards you mailed back (after answering a few questions)?

Did you remember to use the same email address and phone number for all those entries? Good. The data-mining industry thanks you for your cooperation.

And as for the information you didn’t provide (like how much your house is worth), well, you did. When your deed was recorded, or mortgage(s) issued, your local government made a copy (and taxed you a bit on the transaction). All that data is public and accessible – and data-miners are the biggest purchasers. They tie the addresses and names back to the subscription/warranty/sweepstakes lists, and – we have a spokeo.


Protecting yourself…

You can’t really keep the data-miners out of the government records arena, or out of the conventional phone books. But you can make life a bit harder for them.

Don’t go filling in lots of warranty card data, or put bogus stuff in. In most jurisdictions it is not even necessary to “register” a warranty, despite what the card says (your state law trumps the fine print on the warranty card). Try to avoid using the same email address all the time – or even the same phone number.

You might really go whole hog and use blocking and anonymizer software systems, but it really shouldn’t be necessary, though a good adblocker will certainly help.For myself, I use a variety of email addresses, various phone numbers (between home, business, GoogleVoice, etc there are plenty to go around) and the NoScript and AdBlocker plugins in the Firefox browser to stay out of the data mines.

Finally – don’t panic about this stuff. Go to the site, search a few names, marvel at how often they get things really laughably wrong… and go back to living.

[wpw]