Friday, April 15, 2011

Again, don't blame Spokeo - or Facebook - blame the government

Earlier today I read this Enterprise Efficiency post about Spokeo, written by David Wagner. Here's an excerpt:

I typed my name into the Spokeo site and discovered 472 people with my name (thankfully offering me some anonymity), but once I found myself I was shocked. There was a profile, provided for free, with my name, address, phone number, marital status, and my wife’s name. Spokeo also provided a satellite picture of my house, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms it had, the lot size, the square footage, and its estimated value.

The fascinating part of the article, however, was the comments. In my view, the comments missed the point. The commenters talked about shutting down their Spokeo accounts and not using Facebook, giving the impression that these actions were sufficient.

For example: did make me feel good (yet again) about my decision to not use Facebook.


While I do have social media accounts on 4 networks, using primarily for business purposes, I'm very circumspect about what is posted....

Uh, I'm sorry, but even if you never touched Facebook or MySpace or anything else, Spokeo would still find a ton of information about you.

I just talked about this on Tuesday, noting that one of Spokeo's major sources of information is...various government agencies. As I noted in that post, a website called ran an obituary for my father based upon information from the Social Security Death Index.

And all of that information about David Wagner's home, such as the number of bathrooms and estimate value? It probably came from his county government.

There are a number of opportunities for data miners to get information about you from the government. James Ulvog has listed some others:

Other information in the public realm includes court proceedings. Arrest records, hearings, disposition of cases, and sentencing/fine data are now online. That includes civil and criminal cases.

When you consider all of the information that various government agencies are dumping out there, the question of how Facebook manages its privacy settings is relatively inconsequential. Perhaps Facebook can tell you that I have friends who are friends of Guy Kawasaki and Kiira Korpi, but San Bernardino County can tell you how much my house is worth.

Which of these pieces of information is more valuable?

OK, if you're not a figure skating fan or an original Mac fanboi, which of these pieces of information is more valuable?

P.S. I do want to write about the whole "friends of friends" issue at some point. In short, the assumption that each "friend of a friend" is equally close to you is ludicrous.
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