Data Aggregation – Don’t Panic, Just Be Aware

I received a warning from a family member via text message a few days ago, as well as saw several posts on Facebook alerting others to a new website that “has all your personal data” – www.spokeo.com.

The advice was to go to their privacy section, enter my email address and request to be removed from the listing. According to what this family member told me about the removal process, you simply provided your email address, but only two listings could be removed with any single email address. My ears perked up a bit. Really? Interesting.

So I checked out the website with a little more of a critical eye. The site is a data aggregator, pulling data from various already public data sources – the white pages, home purchase records and the like, as well as your own public postings on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

The site requires payment to get the detailed results, but the teaser items include address and phone number, an estimate of your age, marital status, race, education level, possibly a few photos, lifestyle interests and median home values/income in your neighborhood.

While somewhat creepy, none of this is a big shocker. My name, address and phone number are in the white pages. The median home value and income in my neighborhood are easily searchable on www.zillow.com. As for the more personal goodies, the site indicates that it gets a good portion of its information from public profiles on Facebook and MySpace.

The hype behind all the warnings and knee-jerk reactions to “remove your listing from the site” lead me to look around for other data aggregators and compare. If you are going to remove your name from one, don’t forget several others like:

All has some similar data, though they don’t all hit the social media space as hard as Spokeo does. All have an option to pay for more detailed information and many (especially when searching for people who are known to NOT be using social media) have incorrect data.

Ultimately, data is out there and aggregation sites will take advantage, however you really have to go to the source of the data to change what it available – rushing to knocking your name off one search site isn’t going to keep it from appearing on a new site next week. And personally, I’m not excited about providing my email address for “verification” so that can be collected up for some other unknown reason.

Like I’ve said before, it’s important to control and monitor what you put online. Google yourself. Check out some of the data available on these aggregation sites. Be critical of what you click and what you share. The Internet isn’t the safest place, but most places that are interesting have some level of risk.

Finally, don’t forget it’s also important to check your credit and lock your doors, because it’s not just the folks at www.pleaserobme.com who have the ability to figure out where you aren’t.

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