a of social networking web sites covering the widest variety of niches and interest groups. What makes Spokeo different is that it aggregates all the information available about people found on a large range of publicly available information databases and the list of information sources used is extensive. When founded by a group of Stanford graduates in 2006, it was at first designed to be similar to “FriendFeed” to enable users to be kept up to date about the changing status of their friends on many other5 social networking web sites.
Within two years, the success of Spokeo lead to changes in the interface allowing for improved search capabilities. In addition, users could import their email address book to quickly create their friends lists. When imported, Spokeo would then routinely scan for new and updated information from a large selection of social networks, video playlists, blogs and photo albums and because of its ease of use, Spokeo quickly developed a reputation not requiring any boring set-up routine. Users were quickly able to learn a lot about their friends just from an email address. Many commentators were stunned at just how much information they could find ranging from movie ratings on Flixter, their friend’s play lists on Pandora and favorites on Last.fm favorites, new photographs on Flickr and Picasa, posts made by Twitter, blog entries, video uploads and images on Vox, as well as reviews on Digg and Stumbleupon, information on LinkedIn, as well as posts made MySpace, uploads to Slide.com, and wish lists published at Amazon.com. The list of information sources is truly extensive, and continuing to grow.
Spokeo is a Powerful Social Network Information Aggregator
To aggregate all this data, Spokeo uses deep web crawler technology, purpose built to reduce the cost of data acquisition costs and Spokeo provides a lot of the information free of charge. Users are able to search by name and then to refine searches by city and state with the results shown listed by location.
The name Spokeo is a play on the visual image of the spokes of a bicycle wheel where each spoke is connected to the central hub and reaches out to many sources of information, and that much of this information is inter connected in a circular way. And it is truly remarkable just how much information is out in the public domain than can be easily accessed by the Spokeo web crawlers and some such information sources are able to establish a wealth level and credit estimate; often including details about the mortgage commitments of people, their estimated income and investment holdings all of which has led to many people being concerned of being made vulnerable to cyber stalkers. In their defense, Spokeo has denied that any credit history information is not available on their web site.
Spokeo Has Upset Some People Over Privacy Concerns
One area of concern has been people complaining that Spokeo did not reflect changes to people’s privacy settings for example on sites like FaceBook. That is, they claim that after changing their FaceBook setting to private, Spokeo continued to host the FaceBook profile as if it was set to public and some vocal users have complained about this phenomenon. Spokeo denies this and claims that their web crawlers are constantly scanning all sites to reflect the most up to date changes of people’s choices and that this occurs automatically with no action required on the part of users.
In spite of Spokeo’s denials about collecting and making available credit information, in June of 2012 Spokeo was fined eight hundred thousand dollars by the Federal Trade Commission for collecting details about people’s lives. It was found that Spokeo had been actively selling the information to potential employers without protection of individual rights to privacy. This was a ground breaking case; the first of its kind for Internet data mining and Spokeo is now mandated to submit compliance reports for the next twenty years.
And largely because of this controversy, the Spokeo web site now includes a privacy link to an opt out form on the bottom of every page. This form allows users to specify which Spokeo pages must be prevented from appearing in search results. That is, users can opt out of having their names, telephone numbers or email addresses from being indexed by Spokeo. Taking it one step further, in April of 2010 Spokeo removed the ability to search on email addresses. It has been an interesting dilemma for Spokeo, considering that the web site originates and creates no information at all. It simply crawls existing publically available information sources and pulls the information into the one central place. When a user takes action to block their listing from being displayed, the original source of information is unchanged because Spokeo has no control over any of these information sources.
And so the controversy is like to be ongoing. When Spokeo was active in selling the information, it was their financial interest in the matter that gave rise to prosecution. No secret information had been mined or harvested; all of it was publically available and free for anyone to search on directly. And while Spokeo is now clear on the legal nature of their obligations; the issue of privacy at a public relationships level continues to haunt Spokeo simply because many people wish to blame Spokeo, when in fact the information on Spokeo is in fact published elsewhere already.
And it is because of the centralizing of this information that Spokeo is seen to be highly useful for businesses prospecting for new business leads meeting their target demographics. The premium services do provide deeper crawl information, and each payment plan comes with monthly quotas on search volumes. Because of its power as a business tool, Spokeo is fully integrated with Customer Relationship Management functionality. The main concern going forward will be for Spokeo to be able to maintain the accuracy of its information, given that when people relocate and change their phone numbers potentially new files are created for that person rather than the old file being updated.