I hope Harrison has lots of money for lawyers, 'cause he's gonna need lots of lawyers.
Breaking news in my ongoing series about Spokeo and it's unethical owner, Harrison Tang, takes a not-so-surprising turn: the night I wrote this post about how easy (or not) it is to remove your personal information from Spokeo's archives, I mentioned that I did my research based on a fictitious character named Jane Doe.
Would you believe how many Jane Does are in Spokeo's database?
Hazard a guess how many John Does?
OK...so maybe there are that many people with anonymous names. Let's get more creative.
Let's say your name is Joe Blogger (a personal favorite of mine). There are four of you. Hat's off to you, Joe Bloggers, for changing your names to match your occupations. Everyone should be so precise.
Let's get more generic and say your name is "My Name". How many people have it? Wow...at least two?
Let's say your mom, who wore beer goggles when you were born, named you "Eye Glasses" once she sobered up. You're in! She ate her favorite meal after giving birth to her next kid, so guess what went on that birth certificate? That's right...Chicken Soup!
Six mothers have committed the sin of naming their children Chicken Soup.
I would get to the point faster, but I'm laughing too hard.
The point is, with data this inaccurate (including false data for the non-existent Joe Bloggers and Yo Mamas of the world), can you trust Spokeo to give out accurate information about anyone? As NetworkWorld put it:
[...]Spokeo promotes the use of its services in making employment decisions [...] but fails to disclose its data sources or to allow consumers any opportunity to dispute and correct false information. For paid subscribers, these profiles include “Credit Estimate” and “Wealth Level” ratings as well as information about mortgage values, income, investments, lifestyles, ethnicity, religion, politics, education levels, judgments about shopping, recreational habits, Google maps of home and the amenities in a residence, as well as family relationships [...].
The Center for Democracy and Technology has a problem with that. If searching for fake names brings up true facts (here's Fake Name, yet another child-naming mistake?) then what can you assume isn't completely riddled with inaccuracies in Spokeo's database?
Maybe you're thinking: "Well, if Spokeo's information is wrong in my favor, that's good, right?"
That's swell. Spokeo's information is always "wrong in my favor", if you count being misrepresented online as a 60 year old WalMart cashier as "wrong in my favor". If you met me, you'd know the picture on Spokeo and the information that accompanies it is wrong. So Spokeo's system is acting as a perfect anonymizer by giving out false information about me. Oddly enough, I suppose, I have no complaint with that.
But if a potential employer uses Spokeo to match your personality and lifestyle to a job opening, or if a credit reporting agency uses Spokeo to verify your income, and Spokeo's info is WRONG....
Then it's not so funny. It's real-life trouble. That's where The Center for Democracy and Technology draws the line, that's why they've filed a complaint on Spokeo, and that's why the FTC is getting involved [direct link to FTC PDF].
So, let's hope the FTC probe results in Spokeo's closure or drastic changes to how its search and business model works.
Because if Spokeo continues on the way it is now, it's going to ruin more lives than one might assume it already has. From NetworkWorld, again:
Despite the glaring inaccuracies, Spokeo has published detailed consumer reports about millions of consumers. The complaint to the FTC maintains, "Consumers are only given an imperfect mechanism to delete their profiles, though most of those consumers would have no reason to know about or visit Spokeo to do so. Meanwhile, employers and other decision makers may be relying on Spokeo’s credit, wealth, and lifestyle data in making adverse determinations about consumers without their awareness."
That can't be right - whether your name is Joe Blogger or not.