By: Erin Leffew, Program Coordinator (Prevention & Education) and Stephanie Romano
If you’ve ever Googled yourself, you know that the amount of personal information available online is incredibly worrisome. In our last issue of Frontline, we discussed the trend of false online sexual assault ads. In this issue, we will discuss Spokeo, a site that compiles individuals’ personal information from public records and puts it all in one location: their site. Spokeo describes itself as “a people search engine that organizes White Pages listings, Public Records and Social Network Information to help you safely find & learn about people.” Spokeo also promotes its ability to reconnect friends and loved ones, and even asks for personal testimonies for reunion stories.
While Spokeo promotes itself as a site to “safely” reunite people, in the wrong hands the information available on this site can be extremely dangerous. Spokeo collects data from third-party sources, including Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, as well as phone books, real estate records, and marketing surveys to compile detailed profiles of individuals that can include information such as age, address, phone number, aerial photographs of places you’ve lived, and family history. Purchasing a Spokeo membership allows members to access specific house numbers, full telephone numbers, and other detailed information about an individual – including a history of past residences and phone numbers. For a nominal fee, this site can be used as a way to track, monitor, and obtain personal information that can put an individual in danger, particularly in cases where an individual is trying to escape from an abuser, when it is used for the wrong reasons.
Fortunately, there is a way to remove your information from Spokeo’s website. First, search your name on the site’s homepage at www.spokeo.com
. It will list areas which have a profile listed under that name. For each of the profiles listed, copy the URLs. Next, scroll down and click the ‘Privacy’ link at the bottom of the page. From there, you can scroll down to fill out their “opt out” form. It will ask for the profile’s URL and your email address, for verification purposes. This will remove your information from Spokeo. Deleting your profile from Spokeo does not, however, delete your information from the third-party sources Spokeo retrieved it from since Spokeo is just a service that collects information from public records.
Technology is a wonderful thing. It connects people and makes life easier. It’s also an incredibly important part of students’ personal and academic lives. We share pictures and stories, find old friends and family, expand networks, pay bills, sign up for classes, get what we need delivered, track our workouts and goals, and so much more. However, it’s important to remember that stalkers and perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence incorrectly use these wonderful resources and the information found in them in ways that they were not intended.
And a site that collects all the information I need to find my long lost best friend from elementary school can also provide all the information a stalker may need to find me. Being aware and remaining vigilant of what you post is incredibly important so that your online experience can remain a positive one.