Spokeo comes under fire for revealing personal information

February 12, 2011 12:27:40 AM PST
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, introduced a package of privacy bills on Friday to protect your personal information online. Her legislation comes as the online aggregator Spokeo is creating a firestorm of complaints. It calls itself as a social networking site, collecting and releasing information about you, but the information released isn't what most people want made public.

Spokeo prides itself on not being your grandma's white pages. On the site you just type someone's name and you can find their address, phone number, marital status, siblings, home value, and hobbies. For a fee, you can get their credit information, income, photos, and religion.

"The potential of harm, personal harm, financial harm, to any of us is really severe," said Nicole Ozera from the ACLU.

The ACLU is concerned Spokeo violates people's privacy, but that's not all. Some users filed suit against Spokeo claiming the company violated the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act by making people's financial data public, but not allowing them to correct inaccuracies. A judge ruled in favor of Spokeo this week.

"One judge said the plaintiffs that were complaining about their practices had no basis to complain because they couldn't show how they'd been hurt by Spokeo," said Eric Goldman.

Goldman is the director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University. He offered to search himself on Spokeo. He pointed out that they published an old address of his, they had old information, and that he thought they had nothing valuable on there. And that was why Goldman doesn't consider Spokeo a threat. He also doesn't see anything illegal about it.

"Assuming it's all public information that's already been published somewhere else, it's not illegal to put it in a new context," said Goldman.

But web users ABC7 spoke with disagree.

"Its kind of breaking the privacy issues because people can find out where I live or my family lives," said Duc Lam, a San Jose resident.

ABC7 asked one woman if the information about her was correct and she said it was. She pulled up the information about herself and found they had her gender, age, and marital status. The site also revealed that she lives in an apartment worth $295,000 and that you could pull up a picture of her apartment.

Now a consumer privacy group is trying a different route by filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, also claiming Spokeo's information is inaccurate.

If you want to opt out of Spokeo, here is the link: www.spokeo.com/privacy


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