Saturday, April 10, 2010

Spokeo- how does your online profile look?

One of my Facebook friends recently posted some concern about a new online phone book, Spokeo dot com, a new-fangled version of the online directory, designed not only to provide your name, address and telephone number, but an aggregate of everything that is known about you on the Internet. A Spokeo profile will list photographs of you, where you can be found on social networks etc. It also does something else, it purports to collect valuable information about your life habits, interests, credit history, your mortgage and age. For a small fee, it will elaborate further. All of this information obtained by public records and what you choose to share about yourself on the Internet.It also adds to the mix public demographic information based on ZIP Code profiles and other various sources.

Well, I just had to search myself to see what all this concern was about. It was oddly disturbing to see my life unfold before me. Because I practice safe Internet usage, use non-specific user names, keep my Facebook settings private, and engage in deliberate privacy behaviors, there wasn't too much divulged that isn't already available publicly. Sharing with the world that I like to read and garden is not earth-shaking information. In fact it's downright generic stuff. It did make me older than my husband, probably because I never put my real DOB on any online documents. So yes, because I am wiser, I end up being older! So be it!

Spokeo knows I own cats, like Rock and Roll music, and I am apparently a fat lush! Hey, I could use to lose a few...but my profile is chocked full of wine, food, and cooking. Gourmet cooking at that. Tell that to my husband who gets a frozen pizza delivered to him twice a week and the closest thing to French cuisine we eat comes in a Stouffer's red box!

My Spokeo profile over emphasized my lust for food and wine!  Really, I have other hobbies!

I did buy a Julia Child cookbook once at a yard sale several years ago that collects did Spokeo find out about that???

I was surprised to find out that I am a sports enthusiast- if watching one week of October baseball counts, then yes I am. I apparently like to stroll, as opposed to walking, or running, I am now identified to the world as a "stroller." Oddly, I am defined as both being interested and disinterested in politics. I am an avid politico...but I guess when I am preparing fabulous gourmet dishes, I set politics aside so I can concentrate. One has to follow Julia's recipes carefully!


Spokeo knew we had an elderly parent living at home with us who moved in, in early 2007, but who passed away in late 2008, so the information got fed fairly recently, but was not updated. It is kind of weird to share with the world, albeit semi-accurately, who you are living with. Sadly, today my husband and I are both adult orphans. It's just us and the cats now. I wonder how long it will take Spokeo to catch on.
Thanks to Spokeo, my life is flashing before me in all its virtual splendor!

The really interesting stuff was the financial portrait. There is a big dial showing my credit level. Having recently checked my credit report- (something everyone can do free once a year), I know this dial is wrong!
Suffice to say I was disturbed that it appeared below average. Clicking the hyperlink "See available information" directs one to a pay for information page, which I was not prepared to do. So just for the heck of it, I searched the names of people I knew had both great and terrible credit. The dial appeared the same for each, so this is not a live-accurate image, but an indication of services offered. The low tilting level, I think is there to cleverly and deliberately alarm most people and prompt them to pay to see, "what the hell happened to my credit?!"

I was also very surprised to learn I lived in a million dollar home (oh how I wish this were true!) but it was not known if this million dollar baby had central heat or air conditioning. While earlier it listed both my husband, myself and my mother-in-law in residence, this portion of the report adds a fourth, undisclosed person, and my million dollar home appears to be a Victorian (sadly, also not true.) On the other hand, maybe I will start getting the Restoration Hardware catalog in the mail.

According to Skopeo, I live in a Million Dollar Victorian circa 1900

A little information is a dangerous thing. Half-truths do not paint an accurate portrait. What can you do to keep your life from being disclosed in such a manner?
  • Make sure your social networking sites are optimized for privacy.
  • If you post on blogs, forums, newsgroups, comment on news stories, etc. use an alias or non-revealing user name.
  • Create a free email account with a generic name to use for shopping, posting and most Internet activity.
    • Keep emails associated with your real name PRIVATE. Use a secondary email for Internet activities
  • Resist signing on to other sites via Facebook and Twitter. This is a way your Internet activities can be aggregated. I use Facebook and Twitter, but I post links to them independently and I do not sign on to them via a quick connect on another site.
  • Don't give anyone your real date of birth. Why? Why? Why? Unless it is the IRS, or a legitimate government entity or personal is no one's business what your DOB is. I have a separate Internet DOB I use, very close to my real one, and that is the one I give out in every case when "they" just have to know!
  • Be careful of online surveys, polls, and those questionnaires that come with warranty cards, or when you enter contests. Data information is a commodity. They are not asking you about yourself because they are curious- they are selling the information.If you simply must fill those things out, go ahead, get creative- you are entitled to fantasy life right? Share that one, not your real one!
  • Realize that those discount grocery store cards and key tags collect data about you. When you fill out the supermarket form to get the discount card, I bet you gave them your real name, phone number, email etc. Why?  They are collecting information about your shopping habits and they are building a profile of you and selling it. In turn, they thank you by giving you a price break. That is a fair trade. Just be aware it is happening.
  • According to Snopes, activating Spokeo's privacy measures are dubious at best, Snopes likens it to "Whack-a-mole" and they have little faith that requesting privacy has any effect at all, So in so many words, once it's out there, it is out there. The only thing you can control is what or what does not go  "out" henceforth.
  • Whenever you do enter information online, (and there are legitimate instances to do so like HGTV's Dream House Giveaway) please read the Web site's privacy policy carefully. They will disclose whether they are selling all or parts of your information to other sources. You must then weigh if those disclosures are worth entering personal information online.
In this information age, who we are is important. We are living, breathing, "strolling" data bank creatures full of information that others want to mine and profit from. Some of us work hard to build our life, our history, our credit, and our reputation, and whether you mind sharing it or not is a personal choice- but all of us need to know that it is being collected behind the scenes-that it is being shared on a much wider scale than ever before- and most importantly how and why.

I have half a mind to create a whole new life for myself via surveys, customer response cards, and contests. I wonder how long it will take for the changes to appear in Spokeo profile? I think I will give myself a raise, bump up my education level, shave off a few years, and award myself a nice career title. My new, virtual home will be someplace ritzy, perhaps Ponte Vedra, Florida, ZIP Code 32082-that should get me into the 2-4 million dollar home range. I'll get rid of the cats, and get lots of big dogs, and engage in extreme hobbies. Might as well create an exciting life, right? Stay tuned. My Spokeo profile is about to get interesting!

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