Lately I have seen a lot of facebook updates with something like:

“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!!!”

Here is the real scoop about Spokeo.com.

It’s a paid/subscription based search engine that aggregates data pertaining to individual names, email addresses, phone numbers from online public sources that include phone books, real estate listings, government records, profile entries from websites  like Facebook, MySpace, Amazon, LinkedIn, Flickr and others (Spokeo claims more than 50 sources of data). The site has been online for over a year.

There are other websites that do the same exact thing- people search.  (Pipl, ZoomInfo, and Intelius.)  This is data that can be gleaned by using Google.  Do a simple Google Search of your name?  See what comes up? It’s especially interesting if you have a unique name?

Many people are shocked to see how much information is available with a quick simple search.  You address, marital status, children, credit score, guestimated income (unless you’re a public employee), religion, hobbies, friends, family, personal photos and even a satellite image of your home (Hell my garage door is open on my house).

This is scary information that the average person thinks is being leaked.  The truth of the matter is this is all publically available information and most is easily accessible with just a few clicks by anyone with or without using Spokeo to find the data.

My point is by removing yourself from Spokeo doesn’t delete the data off the internet.  It doesn’t take you and your info back into obscurity. This data has always been available it just now less effort and more cost effective.

So here is my IT/Webmaster/Online Marketing insight into this.

I believe this to be a very smart viral social media marketing campaign.  By stirring up emotion and fear the social marketers have been able to get millions of people to visit their website to remove their “personal” information through the use of fear.  Did it get you to go to Spokeo.com? After the fear subsides they hope that you get curious about someone like an ex girlfriend, boss, coworker etc and subscribe to their service.

This is an evil example of brilliant social media marketing.

Now the scary part…

This data isn’t verified. It may or may not be accurate.  The search engine goes out and gathers information it finds around your name.  I strongly suggest that you don’t rely completely on their information.

My take on opting out…

If you opt out of your information, you are validating their data.  You are telling them that yes this person exists and this information is correct.  If it wasn’t correct or related to you why would you want to delete it?