A New Privacy Invasion to Fight

They are probably not unique, but spokeo.com has robots diligently combing the world for your personal information. What they have on you might be surprising. And, while it is possible, they don’t make it obvious how you can delete (or at lease hide from public view) the data about you they have gathered for profit.

Telephone numbers, addresses, relationships, and of course age are only a few of the things about you that they are selling.

So: time to get your profiles off of spokeo.com. If anyone out there knows of similar services out there, let’s consolidate the “quit making profit by selling my personal data” list.

NOTE: These instructions might be more complicated than necessary, but this method is what I tested.

  1. Go to spokeo.com
  2. Enter your name. Scan the matches for any that might be you. You will have to delete each profile individually.
  3. Select a profile. In the window that pops up, select “see it all”.
  4. You will go to a screen that tries to sell you the service, including “See all available information, including photos, profiles, lifestyle and wealth data.” Now you remember why you’re dong this.
  5. Copy the entire URL from the address bar of your browser.
  6. Down at the bottom of the screen is a teeny, tiny little link that says “privacy”. Click that.
  7. Paste in the URL.
  8. Supply an email address. TIP: you can tag your address with a plus sign. For instance, instead of [email protected] you can use [email protected] That way any email they send to you will be tagged. (This opens up a different discussion that I will leave for another day.)
  9. Try to decipher the CAPTCHA, then submit.
  10. When the email arrives, click the link and your data will be “removed”. I don’t honestly expect the data is actually deleted, but at least it’s a little more hidden.
  11. Repeat the process with any other profiles that might be you. You will have to use a different email tag each time.
  12. Write a robot that automatically deletes records from their database. If I had the skills I’d do it myself. With robots they gather, with robots we take away.

I recommend that you don’t do this “later”, or “tomorrow”, but now. If you have any troubles, leave a comment and I’ll clarify the instructions. If you know of other “services” like this one, let’s add them here!

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16 thoughts on “A New Privacy Invasion to Fight

  1. At least when I went there, the “Privacy” button was visible at the bottom of the initial information screen, so I didn’t have to go through the extra steps of going to “See it all.” Admittedly, it’s very small and therefore hard to see, but it was there.

    • According to Wikipedia, Yahoo! mail does not conform to RFC 5322 so indeed using the plus won’t work. They do have a product called Yahoo! Email Plus which does allow tagging using hyphens. Google mail does support the plus.

      • Apparently my ISP/mail server doesn’t conform either – also had to redo.
        [on a completely different topic, Pat is now the court-recognized executor of his Dad’s will!]

  2. It’s been pointed out by a reader who prefers to use email that while spokeo is bad enough, they are by no means unique. In particular, Facebook and Google make a lot of money selling personal information. He has a good point. The big social networking sites have a lot of info about you, and they know how to profit from it.

    The cynical among us might even say that Facebook and its pals are simply elaborate systems to get you to volunteer information about yourself, that can then be resold. That might not have been the intent when those businesses started, but it sure seems to have worked out that way. If you don’t want personal information about yourself to get out there, you probably shouldn’t be using those sites.

    I do draw a distinction between the Facebooks of the world and the Spokeo’s. At least Facebook offers something of value in exchange for your information (this also motivates you to keep you info up-to-date).

    Perhaps we should all learn from Harlean Carpenter (who is a fiction). Perhaps we should all be fictions online, and leave traceable information about ourselves in the meat world.

  3. I have a special paranoia about sites like ancestry.com. Insurance companies are supposed to use genetic profiling (I think), but if they happen to know someone died of, say, leukemia, what’s to stop them from getting a list of relatives from a family-tree site? Using the medical histories of people they already cover, they can form a pretty good profile of new applicants.

    • The problem with Facebook (I know for a fact) and Ancestry.com (I don’t know but feel safe presuming) is that third party apps were able to mine your data EVEN IF you didn’t play the games, BUT BECAUSE your friends did. The apps “piped” thru your friends data to mine the friends of your friends (i.e. YOU). I eschew ancestry.com for privacy reasons, but if family members have used them and stated for the record I am related, then I assume my private data is hosed. I’m just waiting for the ‘newstory” to break. After the horse has left the barn.

  4. There is at least one site that will pay you $1 per lead to submit info about your “friends”. Think of everyone you know who has your demo/psychographic data, and do you think not one of them would be tempted by this? $1K for the contents of your address book sounds good to an out of work former networker (or linked-in member).

    Did you ever reveal the purpose of the instructions in the background.gif?

    • I mentioned what the instructions are for a long time ago, and one reader actually recognized what they were. It’s page 1 of the production process used by the BBC to construct the first Daleks. I spent way too long redoing all the type to match the site.

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