GOOD

This Website Is Stalking You, and It's Partially Your Fault

This website knows where you live, your hobbies, and how much money you make, and you probably helped it learn some of that.


If he was like mine, your grandfather always said "the computers" were going to get too powerful one day. Frighteningly, finally, the old men may be right.

Founded in 2006, Spokeo began as a social network aggregator whose deep web-searching tools allowed people to keep tabs on their friends' various online profiles. The site's innocent origins, however, gave way to a creepier reality when it was discovered that it was a really great way to wrangle a lot of different, intimate information about a person into one place. What it's become since—Spokeo 5.0 was launched in November of 2010—is a strange amalgamation of information about where people live (complete with pictures of their homes via Google Maps), how much money they make, how to reach them on the phone, and who their relatives are. Were that not enough, just last month Spokeo added a section to their site that allows users to cull information using what you may have thought was an anonymous social networking handle like "Mark534" or "PennyLane86."


And that may be the spookiest thing about Spokeo: Much of the damage it can cause is self-inflicted. Eight percent of online Americans now use Twitter, according to the Pew Research Center. And 14 percent of adults online blog. Add to that the hundreds of millions of people giving their hobbies and incomes on sites like Facebook and MySpace, and you start to get a clearer picture of how sites like Spokeo—ZabaSearch is another—worm their way into the deeper contours of your life.

Though scrubbing yourself from Spokeo can be tricky, it is possible. And you should take solace in the fact that some of the information is wildly wrong (salaries are occasionally hundreds of thousands of dollars off). Still, it's a bit disconcerting to know that all this information is just floating out there, sometimes due to our own naive oversharing.

If you're not on Spokeo, good for you. Anecdotally, however, you're in the minority—meaning you can't get stalked, like a normal person.

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