A reader writes:
This is scary. I didn't get it as an email but saw it as a post on Facebook (where I have a fake name) and I went to the website. Not only did they have our information (only a little confused my husband and his father have a similar name so they listed both), but they also listed my husband by a nickname that only his family calls him. I am very upset that our information, including our daughter's information, was listed. I am sending this to you in hopes you can check it out and tell others. Also, so far I have not found "the button on the right' to remove us and protect privacy but I am still searching.
The text is below:
"FYI EVERYONE - There's a site called spokeo.com and it's an online phonebook that has a picture of your house, credit score, profession, age, how many people live in the house. Remove yourself AND ANY AKA OR SPOUSE by the Privacy button on the bottom right. (passing along, scary stuff!) I have personally checked it out .... and it is really there! CUT PASTE AND REPOST!!!"
Okay, here's the deal. Spokeo.com is basically a search engine that aggregates information pertaining to individual names, email addresses, and phone numbers from online public sources such as phone books, real estate listings, and government records, plus profile entries from websites like Facebook, MySpace, Amazon.com, LinkedIn, Flickr, and many others (the Spokeo site lists upwards of 50 potential data sources).
It can indeed be shocking to see how much information can be dug up about you in 15 seconds your home address, your marital status, religion, hobbies, names of friends and family members, personal photos, a satellite image of your home, even your estimated income and credit score.
Just as troubling is the fact that no one fact-checks the assembled data, meaning it can be partially or wholly incorrect.
The thing is, if Spokeo can find it, the info is publicly available and can be found online by anyone, with or without the convenience of a Spokeo.com.
The website does provide a "Privacy" form whereby you can delete your individual listing (note: some users report this is easier said than done), but don't miss the critical point: simply removing your search results from Spokeo.com doesn't prevent anyone from accessing the data by other means.
To protect your personal data on social networking services, you must either refrain from providing it to sites like MySpace and Facebook in the first place, or adjust your privacy settings on each website accordingly. Also, if your phone number and address are listed in the White Pages, that information is publicly accessible online, as are some government records (accessibility varies by state) and real estate listings.