Looking for a living relative? You might want to try Spokeo at http://www.spokeo.com/. It claims to be "not your grandma's phonebook;" it's more like a spy tool. The web site can display a lot of personal information: photos, a spouse's name, and perhaps the scariest part of all, a photo of the person's house from Google Street View! Before you get too excited, read on.
Quoting from the Spokeo web site:
"Spokeo is a search engine specialized in aggregating and organizing vast quantities of people-related information from a large variety of public sources. The public data is amassed with lightning speed, and presented almost instantly in an integrated, coherent, and easy-to-follow format."
I entered my own name to see what Spokeo knew about me. I don't think my name is either very common or very rare. I was surprised when Spokeo found 225 people in the U.S. who share my name and displayed a map showing the states where we live. Several men of the same name are located in the same state where I live. I clicked on the name of the state and saw my name and street address listed. Once I clicked on that, Spokeo displayed what it knows about me.
I did feel relieved that Spokeo knows very little about me, other than my name and street address. It doesn't know my age, telephone number (which is unlisted), length of residence, or even my sex. It claims to have three photos of me although it will not display them until I pay $2.95 for a one-month membership or $35.40 for a one-year membership. The advertising claims that a membership allows you to see "all available information, including photos, profiles, lifestyle and wealth data."
"Wealth data?" They know that about me? I doubt it. However, I decided to not pay the membership fee to find out. I'm not that curious. I'll also say that there are a lot more than three photographs of me available free of charge on the web. A quick search on Google images should find a lot more than three photos.
Now for the part that I thought was most amusing: when I clicked on the "view of my home," it displayed a photo taken on my street but about a QUARTER MILE FROM THE HOUSE! The house was not in the photo. In fact, no houses are in the photo! It shows the paved street, a railroad crossing, and some bushes. Nothing else. I’d say the accuracy of their maps fall a little short of Google’s.
Spokeo also displayed some demographic information for the town in which I live: average income, average home value, average age, ethnicity statistics, and more. In short, it is the same information available from dozens of web sites free of charge, including the U.S. Census Bureau.
I started looking for a few other people I know. I searched for another person who lives in the house with me. Spokeo recognized her name and displayed the street address for her, but nothing else. In fact, Spokeo doesn't even know her telephone number which is listed publicly in phone books, on Switchboard.com, Google, and several other web sites. Spokeo apparently does not know anything else about her.
My daughter isn't listed at all on Spokeo although several other women of the same name in other parts of the country are listed. My next door neighbor has lived in his house for more than 40 years but is not listed on Spokeo. My sister has lived in her home about ten years but is not listed at all. One entry I found amusing is that for a nephew; Spokeo found his address, which is in a heavily populated neighborhood in the middle of Phoenix, Arizona. However, the "street view" shown for his home displays a picture of open Arizona desert land.
I searched for several friends with varying degrees of success. Some were found; others were not. Those that were found typically had at least some erroneous information. One friend was listed as having lived in Provo, Utah, for 19 years while I know he has only been there 5 or 6 years. On the other hand, a listing for a niece of mine seemed to be quite accurate, even showing her occupation, age, and telephone number.
All in all, I'd say that Spokeo under-delivers and is over-hyped. Yes, it does display personal information about a lot of people. However, the same information can be found on Google, Switchboard.com, Zillow.com, and a number of other web sites. Spokeo displays some information free of charge, then charges for additional information. However, se veral free web sites will display all the informaiton and will not ask for payment.
I am uncomfortable with all the personal information being displayed on the web these days, but Spokeo seems to be no worse than the others. I guess that qualifies as faint praise.
For more information, or to see what this "Big Brother" knows about you, go to http://www.spokeo.com