Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bob, Weave, Aggregate -- it's, Round 2

A reader named Sheryl left this comment about my last post:

I've used Spokeo for a while now, so I'm pretty familiar with some of the issues you're addressing in your post. The only stuff that comes up in email searches is public data that you've posted. If you have your social network profiles set to "private", then your info won't come up in the search. Spokeo does NOT have IP addresses; they only display IP addresses for the email server, not for your personal computer. I've opted out a few listings, and realized there was a limit as well. Most people shouldn't have more then 2-3 listings to remove, but if you do, I guess I'd suggest to create a junk email address that you can use to remove the other listings.

In case it's not obvious, this is a Spokeo person posing as a disinterested party. How do I know? I have a traffic counter attached to this blog site. This comment came from an IP address labeled "Spokeo." So much for Sheryl's brushing off IP addresses.

That's not the only inaccuracy. Remember that I tried to have my email addresses removed from the site? All are still there tonight but one. That's an even tighter "opt-out" limit than the company admits to.

Worse, there's a photo linked to one of the addresses--a photo that now exists only on a web page without links. If it was ever on Facebook, it isn't now. The only people who can find it are people I sent the URL to. So I thought. (Thank God none of the photos have captions.)

I don't even want to know how got this photo. I just want it gone.

Aside from the implications of this dubious tap-dancing by the company itself, Spokeo-style "aggregation" is dangerous. Very. It makes anonymous snooping easy.

I'm not talking about your curious mom, your boy- or girlfriend, or your roommate, who might make you blush. There's also your jealous ex, the lady who doesn't like your kids, your local gossip, a stalker, or some wacko cyberbully.

Want to see semi-accurate information on your family in the hands of a Lori Drew, the midwest neighbor mom who drove young Megan Meier to suicide?

There is NO legit reason for packaging and posting private information on random individuals. At least I can't think of any. And Spokeo isn't trying to. Here's their teaser for checking up on your friends:

Does this look legit to you? To me it's just creepy.

Should you trust Sheryl's bosses?

Not a chance.


Here's a real threat to your privacy--an online phone book with personal information on you.

Search on your own name. Your listing may show, among other things, your address, the social networks you belong to, personal photos you've posted, your income, your address, and the IP addresses associated with your account.

Almost everything on my listing was either vague or inaccurate, but that wouldn't keep people (and businesses, and crooks) from believing and/or using what's on there.

Here's how to undo the damage:

•Search for yourself on

•Copy the web address of the results page.

•Scroll to the very bottom of the page--it's in the page frame--and look for the little bitty word "privacy."

•Click on "privacy."

•Paste the web address you saved where the instructions tell you to.

•Put in an email address (unfortunately, you're stuck with this step).

•When Spokeo's email arrives, click on the link in the email.

YOU HAVE TO DO THIS FOR EACH OF YOUR EMAIL ADDRESSES TOO. There's less information for emails, but there's still too much.

To make things worse, Spokeo will only allow you to remove a specific number of pages on any given day ("to prevent abuse"--rich, huh?). They say, "Try again tomorrow!"

Obviously, this calls for some legislation. To make things easier, you can send the message below to your senators and congressperson:

I'm writing to tell you about an outrageous threat to online privacy. The site aggregates personal information--often incorrect--and posts it under your name, and then throws up roadblocks to keep you from removing yourself from the site. You can remove search-results pages, but Spokeo limits the number of that you can remove on any given day--"to prevent abuse"--they say. Because also lists email addresses, it's easy to reach that limit. calls itself a phone book. Well, I want my numbers--all of them--unlisted NOW. We need legislation that will require sleazeballs like's founders to inform people who are included on their site, and legislation that will remove limitations on getting personal information off it.