Jan 132011
 January 13, 2011  Posted by  Business, Online

Over on Forbes, privacy blogger Kashmir Hill discusses complaints about Spokeo – including yours truly’s FTC complaint about the fact that deleted profiles reappeared.

Unlike yours truly, who still has not gotten any response from Spokeo to my direct complaint/inquiry to them, Kashmir was able to get a response from them:

A Spokeo spokesperson says: “When you choose to opt out, we place a permanent flag on your listing so that it does not ever reappear on Spokeo.com. We are constantly receiving new and updated listings, and we try very hard to match these new listings to the existing ones and preserve your privacy preference. However, a computer cannot know the difference between “John Smith at 1234 Nowhere Street” and “John Smith at 5678 Somewhere Avenue”, though you may know that you moved. So if a new listing contains your new address, or if there are significant typos which prevent our computers from matching an existing listing, you will see a new listing for your name. We are constantly improving our matching algorithms in order to maintain your privacy. Spokeo guarantees that our opt out policy is among the best on the Internet.”

If that were the case, I could understand it, but these were the identical names and same addresses as in the previously deleted profiles.

And to those who say “don’t blame the aggregator,” I do hold Spokeo accountable for making information freely and too easily available to the curious. While the  information they provide may be in public records or other records somewhere, I doubt if my patients or a few misguided souls who are obsessed with me would spend time digging for personal information on me. But look, they can go to a web site and conveniently and freely find out my husband’s name, my children’s names and ages, and other details and then start Googling my children’s names and my husband’s name? No, thanks.

I blog pseudoanonymously partly to keep my clinical work separate from my privacy advocacy. I also keep some my family’s details private from my patients – as most mental health professionals try to do, to varying degrees. I removed my family’s profiles from Spokeo in March and I do not appreciate Spokeo making them available yet again.  As I’ve said before, if a company tells us that we can opt out and we choose to opt out, we should stay opted out or at least they should be transparent and say that profiles may reappear.  Maybe when Congress is done with DoNotTrack, we can get a DoNotProfile to add to the collection.

In the meantime, get your act together, Spokeo, because I intend to stay on this and if those profiles reappear yet again, you’ll have a lot of explaining to do — and not just to the FTC.

[post corrected to add link to Forbes’ article. ]

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