Social People Search Engines: Stalking Made Easy

Dennis Faas's picture

With the growing popularity of social networking comes a growing list of social search engines that can turn up all kinds of embarrassing and potentially invasive information about you.  The issue raises questions about what other revealing information is out there and what can be done to protect oneself.

Besides making online stalking easy, specialized search engines are making it increasingly easier to combine socially shared information together into a highly detailed profile of our virtual lives. These specialized search engines go by a variety of terms such as "social search" utilities or "people search" utilities and many of them brag of their ability to search deeper than even Google.

The Social People Search Engine

Spokeo, pipl and CVGadget are a few examples of specialized social engines.

Harrison Tang, founder and CEO of Spokeo, a social people search engine, says despite what people think, there is actually a lot of information on the Internet not crawled by Google. (Source: pcworld.com)

Specialized people search engines like Spokeo, pipl and CVGadget are designed to let you dig up information on friends, foes or anyone else you care to search for.

Spokeo, unlike many other services, lets you import your email address book and for a small monthly fee, continually monitors your contacts and notifies you when anyone does anything new, anywhere online.

Aggregated Identities Result In A New Identity

The portfolio compiled by all the accumulated information can be potentially damaging for just about anyone. Tang notes that a lot of people know they have a public MySpace page and a public Twitter album. Some may not realize that when all the information from both services is bundled together, it creates a new, aggregated identity. (Source: pcworld.com)

Spokeo tracks a person's activity on a few dozen services, from basic blogs, social networks, photo and video-sharing sites, as well as less obvious sources such as Amazon Wish Lists, Pandora playlists, and movie-rating sites.

Prying Under The Guise Of Market Research

There are other services that access the same information and then sell it under the guise of marketing research. Rapleaf, a highly visible 'data and people lookup' company, gets paid thousands of dollars for compiling detailed social profiles of individuals in their own customer database. (Source: pcworld.com)

All the information assembled by specialty search engines such as Spokeo is publicly available. Companies like Rapleaf just bring it all together and are allegedly trying to understand how to use social media more effectively for specialized marketing.

Having all that information accumulated in one place creates some new privacy risks. (Source: pcworld.com)

Control and Protect Your Privacy Online

These services are not illegal. The information gathered is available to anyone who knows where to look.

Rather than ignoring the mountain of information that may have been collected about you, PC World suggests you try to use it as a tool for understanding and controlling your online identity.

Tips and suggestions you can take to protect your privacy online are available from PC World, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Visit Bill's Links and More for more great tips, just like this one!

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