ConsumerWatch: Personal Info Search Engine Raises Privacy Concerns

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Screen shot of Spokeo.com, a search engine for personal information. (CBS)

Screen shot of Spokeo.com, a search engine for personal information. (CBS)

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — A new website makes finding out more about your neighbor, boss or significant other easier. Spokeo.com, a new breed of search engine founded in the Bay Area, pulls together public information from over 30 sources, and posts them in one place for the entire world to see.

Beverly Gannon of Hawaii, has an unlisted phone number. While visiting San Francisco recently, Gannon logged onto Spokeo.com and found her unpublished number right on the site, along with the value of her home, her hobbies and her astrological sign.

“Oh, my God,” Gannon said. “I really don’t want all my information out there.”

Spokeo.com did not respond to repeated requests by CBS 5 ConsumerWatch for comment about how it obtained Gannon’s phone number. Kent German of CNET.com speculates Spokeo could have gotten it from any number of sources, including public records of political contributions.

Marcia Hoffmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization concerned about privacy rights, worries information obtained on sites like Spokeo could be misused. “People are going to be making judgment calls about other people based on the information,” Hoffman said.

And as Gannon found out, not all the information on Spokeo is correct. It is something that Spokeo acknowledges on the site. “They take the position that all they’re doing is that they’re aggregating information that’s publicly available elsewhere so they can’t be responsible for it,” Hoffman said

Harrison Tang, one of the founders of Spokeo, is not even listed on the site. He has removed his own listing. “I think it’s very interesting when the co-founder of a company won’t even allow his own information to be listed on the site,” Hoffman added

You can take yourself off Spokeo by going to the little tab at the bottom of the site that says “Privacy.” However, to be taken off the list, the site asks for your email address.

(© CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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