Update: Spokeo's consumer profiling prompts complaint to FTC
Updated: With comments from Spokeo
Forget Googling yourself. Try to Spokeo yourself, and you may be as stunned as I was with what I found. That’s made the data aggregation and broker the subject of a consumer protection complaint filed Wednesday to the Federal Trade Commission.
The Web site that tracks user profile information has a pretty rich profile of me, not all accurate. Yes, I’m Asian. Yes, I’m a Cancer. But, woah: Where did they get that stuff about income and credit?
Through various Web sites such as social networks, phone directories and marketing surveys, Spokeo finds publicly available information through its algorhythm on gender, ethnicity, credit worthiness and income – all information the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology believes crosses the line and needs federal scrutiny. Spokeo makes some of that information available for free and charges for other information.
Specifically, CDT said in its complaint, Spokeo’s actions violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act by publishing credit estimates and wealth levels of individuals. It also engages in unfair and deceptive business practices by luring users to sign up for its paid services on mortgage and other information that isn’t available after payment.
“Spokeo’s service is particularly troubling as much of the information is inaccurate or misleading, and the site is marketed to employers and other decision-makers who could rely on the advertised credit, wealth and lifestyle data to make negative judgments about consumers without their awareness.”
Spokeo said in an e-mail, that the complaint was "an unfortunate misrepresentation of Spokeo’s products and practices and propagates unnecessary anxiety among
The company said that of the millions of search queries done on its site, only a small portion of visitors opt out of the service. Spokeo also said that the information it gathers is available to anyone searching the Web. The site just makes it easier to find.
The company, created in 2005 by a Stanford University student working out of his parents' basement, allows users to remove their profiles from the site. It took a few minutes and several steps: I had to paste the URL of my profile into a box, provide my e-mail (which I hated doing; the company said on its site that the e-mail is used to prevent further abuse), and type in a security code. Then the company e-mailed me a link to click on to finalize the steps. BUT, that’s not the end of it. I still see my cellphone and work number profiles on the site. So I will have to go through the same process two more times.
| July 1, 2010; 10:28 AM ET
Categories: FTC, Privacy
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