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Keeping Down The Creepy: How To Protect Your Privacy Online

It’s good to finally see that in this age of limited connectivity, overly secure privacy protection, and a general lack of accessibility to information both personal and otherwise, there’s finally a service that allows strangers to search for and/or stalk other people.

Oh, I’m sorry, what I meant to say in that last sentence is exactly the opposite of what I typed.  Damn you, haxors!!!11

In case you haven’t heard about the website already, Spokeo is a new information gathering web service that allows users to search for the personal information of strangers, friends, co-workers, etc.  From this description, it doesn’t sound like anything new, as Facebook, Twitter, and even Google allows users to do essentially the same thing.  However, if this was the case, than this blog would be pretty pointless.  “Nothing to report here, just move along.”  But thankfully for me it isn’t, as it would mean that this blogger gig of mine would soon be coming to an end.

What Spokeo does to really crank up its creep factor and set itself apart from other information gathering web services is the amount of searchable personal data it provides to users.  Everything from where a person lives, to how many people are in their family, household income, relationship status, age, even when they had their first kiss, and more, is available on Spokeo.  The website accomplishes this feat by searching through other websites, such as those previously mentioned ones, as well as other public databases and uses the data it finds to compile a person’s profile.  It really is quite creepy.  I searched my own name and was able to find my personal information on the site, all of which was reported within incredibly accurate detail.  Thankfully, though if one wants to see the more intimate details of another person’s life, they’ll have to fork up a subscription fee to Spokeo.

Obviously, this raises some privacy concerns, especially in this era of ours where people voluntarily and stupidly post the most private details of their life on the internet.  The blogosphere has picked up on Spokeo, too, with the consensuses being as disparate and chaotic as ever since it’s the internet and that’s just how it goes.  The funny thing is that Spokeo itself isn’t really a new site and has actually been around for years.  Ironically, it’s been us, the bloggers and internet users that have really raised the profile of the once unknown website.

Now to be fair, Spokeo doesn’t publish secured information such as social security numbers and bank accounts, as stated by Spokeo a few weeks back.  Oddly to me, this statement in and of itself scared me because it made me think that they had all that information and were just sitting on it until we pissed them off.  I’m joking, of course… hmmm… yeah, joking.

Seriously though, all is not lost if you want to get off of Spokeo’s radar.  The site offers people a chance to have themselves removed from search results if they email Spokeo requesting such action.  Generally, other information aggregating websites offer the same opportunity.  The problem is that the automated nature of these sites, as well as inability to truly erase anything from the internet makes completely opting out of any of these services nearly impossible.  So how does one go about protecting their privacy in this modern age of ours?

Well, you can sue under any applicable legal statute.  For example, if you request to have your information removed from a website like Spokeo and the website refuses or removes it only temporarily, you may be able to sue under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, as was done by some organizations against Spokeo.  However, suing in this case can be rather expensive, timely, and ultimately not worth it if your goal is to remain anonymous from the general public.

The better way to protect your privacy is to limit what you put online.  Here are some tips to consider:

  • Delete your Facebook account or severely limit and/or remove private information and pictures from your profile.
  • Don’t post information you want to keep private on any website unless it’s absolutely necessary
  • Ask your friends and family to respect your privacy by not posting your personal information online, such as via Facebook tagging, Twitter, etc.
  • Request to have your information removed from information gathering websites

I can’t stress how important it is to not post anything you want to keep private on the internet.  That may sound very much like common sense and indeed it is because successfully protecting one’s privacy is accomplished via common sense.

What tips or stories do you have about internet privacy?  As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Comments

  • Amber

    I loved the article until the end. I think you need to make it very clear that limiting what you put online is not the “better way” to protect your privacy but the “only way that is currently under your control.”

    What many people don’t realize about online information brokers like Spokeo is that the information you are required to provide in the offline world in order to conduct day-to-day transactions is collected and sold to companies who post it online.

    That means that when you register for a new driver’s license, your state very likely takes all that offline / personal information and sells it to third-party companies like Spokeo. Likewise, when you register for a credit card, that credit card company likely sells your account balance, on-time payment history, and purchases to third-party companies like Spokeo.

    For more information about Public Records & Online Data Brokers, visit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: http://www.privacyrights.org/Public-Records-and-Info-Brokers

  • Andrew Dat

    I agree with you Amber that keeping everything you want private offline is probably the only way to truly secure your privacy. It’s something I do personally. However, I think for most people in this ever-tech-savvy country of ours, keeping everything offline is near impossible. At some point, people just have to take that risk in order to reap the social pleasure of sharing. I just hope that if people do decide to do this, they do it intelligently and with proper consideration of the potentially consequences.

    Thanks for the response.

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