Katie Hallen -- Imagine a website that pulls from various sources to create a profile of your household – intimate details that you keep private, some under lock in a file cabinet, suddenly aggregated and available by simple search online. Search for your name and you find next to your address a catalog of the following: your age, salary estimate, credit rating, employer, the names of those living in your household, and even your hobbies.
The fact that this information is displayed on a public website available to anyone would send many privacy-cautious people into a panic attack. So, here’s the bad news: this website is for real. Called Spokeo (pronounced Spoke-eo), I prefer to think of it as Creep-eo.
Spokeo.com claims to be a modern-day phonebook for the social-networking age, but it’s approach is something closer to that hideous late-night reality show Cheaters, where suspicious girlfriends hire a camera crew to dig up dirt on their significant others. In the same vein, Spokeo lets you pay money to see photos of the people in its search database, and you get the idea that its creators would love to tap into cell-phone mapping records so it could show you someone’s exact location at the moment of your search.
A lot of the data seems inaccurate but some of it is close enough to send chills down the spine. At a recent dinner party, a group of us tested it out and got very mixed results, which accurate or not, made us universally unhappy. Some were concerned for their personal safety.
While Spokeo claims that it is pulling data across various public sources, one must wonder if the result is disturbing enough to rally supporters for a federal privacy law. If not to that end, it’s only a matter of time before someone files a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.