Katie Hallen -- Readers of this blog will know that this writer is no fan of Spokeo, the website that aggregates the personal information of millions of Americans and makes it searchable through a simple interface. It's worth mentioning that by far and away most of this data is highly inaccurate.
Spokeo claims to be a modern-day phone book for the social-networking age, but anyone who visits the site can see it for what it is: a start-up desperately trying to make money by brokering what many would consider to be private data. Are Spokeo's actions illegal? That is up for debate. Are they unethical? Absolutely.
Religion, ethnicity, age and shopping preferences are among the items that Spokeo publishes on nearly everyone with an address. Mortgage value, investments and income are available by subscription. If all of this makes you a little bit uncomfortable, Spokeo directs you to so-called "privacy company" ReputationDefender so that you can enlist their services for a charge to remove your personal information from web databases. I'm not a lawyer, but that sounds like racketeering.
Last month, I predicted a Federal Trade Commission investigation into Spokeo. It was refreshing to learn today that the Center for Democracy and Technology has filed a complaint and request for investigation against Spokeo with the FTC. CDT's complaint (found here) argues that Spokeo's business practices violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
We'll continue to monitor this issue to see what happens next.