Have you heard of Spokeo? Because you should be afraid of it.


Spokeo is a people search service that specifically uses social networking sites to learn juicy details about people.  One of Spokeo‘s target audiences is HR Recruiters, who can use Spokeo to get details about job candidates that they may have a hard time getting through a traditional online search.  One of the site’s slogans is “Explore Beyond the Resume”- scary, right?

If you think you’re safe from Spokeo…think again.  It allows people to do in-depth web searches across more than 40 sites, including Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Flickr, Linkedin, Picasa, LiveJournal, Friendster, hi5, bebo, YouTube, Photobucketamazonxanga and many more.

And just check out some of the “testimonials” featured on Spokeo‘s homepage:

You can easily find information about ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends without their knowledge…and that’s not all, it even finds out what your friends are doing across tons of websites.–Matt Keller, abc News Reporter

It’s pretty surprising to find out what people (who you think you know) are listening to on Pandora or Twittering about. The best part is they don’t have to know you’re keeping track of them.–Erick Schonfeld, TechCrunch Editor

Spokeo searches people’s activities on sites such as Flickr, del.icio.us, Amazon… sometimes turning up surprising material, from family albums to embarrassing shopping lists.–Vahini Vara, Wall Street Journal Staff Reporter

To me, Spokeo epitomizes why everyone should be incredibly careful about what they put out there online.  I know that branding is important, and it’s important to create a following if you want to be a successful journalist.  But I’m just not sure how much privacy I’m willing to sacrifice, and I definitely think it’s something that needs to be taken seriously.  I suggest you check out Spokeo.  What does everyone else think about it?


5 responses to “Have you heard of Spokeo? Because you should be afraid of it.

  1. Definitely scary. Not just in the sense that potential employers have complete access to your personal information, but complete strangers in general. At this point, you’re just asking for it if you put personal/inappropriate information online.

  2. I agree that the concept of this website is scary, but its execution isn’t quite as all-encompassing as the creators would like you to believe. I signed up for an account and did a couple of searches for myself, just to see what comes up. It found the following:

    1) A MySpace account with generic information. You find out what books and music I like, but not much beyond that. Theoretically, you could set your profile to private and it would come up with even less.

    2) My Flickr account. I want people to find that, so no big deal.

    3) Twitter, which can get you in trouble probably, but I don’t think it would be difficult to find someone’s Twitter account based on knowing their e-mail address.

    4) Pandora, I think? I don’t know, something I signed up for and don’t use because it shows no content.

    5) The fact that I have a Facebook, but nothing more than a tiny version of the picture I’m using. This is because my profile is only accessible by Belmont students and people in the Nashville network (who get a limited version).

    6) My Amazon.com Wish List, but not really because I haven’t shared any of my wish lists. No content displayed.

    Interestingly enough, it didn’t find my YouTube, any ancient social networking sites I may have been apart of, any blogs I may have started or anything like that.

    Because this search engine works off of e-mail addresses, it will only return stuff that is tied to that e-mail address. Solution? Use a different e-mail for your resumes or for your social networks. And don’t put anything you don’t want people to see online. If you do put potentially embarrassing material online, then use the privacy settings to restrict access to that information.

  3. Using a different email address for your resumes and social networks is a very good suggestion, Lance. Thanks for testing the site. And it’s comforting that it couldn’t find things that you set on private, but somehow the information from my MySpace that was set on private was easily attained through a Google search. I’m not sure how that’s possible. And even though a Google search only comes up with the music and movies I like…that still weirds me out. Any other suggestions?

  4. The biggest thing is learn to use the privacy controls and set them up as soon as possible and as effectively as possible. Especially if it gives you the option to limit information to friends.

    Although your page may not be accessible, it’s likely that the information will sit in Google’s cache until it fades away.

  5. Well, fixing privacy settings is definitely a must, but it can’t be the only response. That’s like saying kids shouldn’t post photos online, because pedophiles might find them. Don’t just warn the children; stop the pedophile, too.

    At this point, Spokeo’s a website that exploits privacy snafus to “uncover hidden photos, videos, and secrets”. That’s how they market it on the top of every page of their blog. And they’re not going after Sarah Palin or Tiger Woods, they’re going after your sister. Everybody’s sister.

    And they’re doing it at the same time that teens are literally bullying one another into suicide on facebook.

    So don’t just change your privacy settings and shrug. Pick up a pitchfork-shaped phone, and use it to call your local congressman, governor’s office, and attorney general. Or the CEO of the website’s ISP. Chances are, their home phone numbers are on Spokeo, just like Sarah Palin’s.

    One quick thought on the different-email solution, though. I’ve tried it. Spokeo eventually aggregates all the data across your name, as well as e-mail address, so even your personal profile on, say, facebook or myspace will start showing up on searches for the work e-mail you’ve listed on linkedin. This might actually accelerate if you try to opt out, since that allows them to tie a specific e-mail or cell hone number to the results for your name.

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