The Myth of Privacy on the Internet

I do a lot of  research on the internet.  Sometimes I am looking for information about places, sometimes about things, sometimes about people.  Some of the things I researched this week were rare medical conditions, copyright violations, back-to-school shopping, microwave parts and weather reports.  I searched a lot more than that, but those are off the top of my head.  I researched some people this week.

And that reminded me about the one people search site I don’t use.  If you know me well, you know I think privacy on the internet is pretty much non-existent.  I’m not even big on reading blogs and tweets from people who don’t want to tell me who they are. If I want to find something out about something or someone, I can nearly always do it, though some research takes longer than other.  The internet has just made it a lot easier.  For what it’s worth, I do have a degree in journalism (and I focused on investigative work during most of my college career), so I have a little more training than the average bear.

I’m sure you’re probably wondering which site it is that I don’t search on.  The site is called Spokeo and they bill themselves as “not your grandma’s white pages.”  And they most definitely are not.  Type in your name and you can see where you live, about how old you are, what your house looks like, how long you’ve lived there and approximately what it’s worth.  And it teams up with google maps to show me a nice picture and just how to get there.  You can also see who lives in your household, usually their name and their approximate age.  If you want to pony up a few bucks, it will give you even more than that. I’m not willing to part with my money to find out how much (or to give them the personal information that goes along with my credit card), but if you do, please share it in the comments.


Now, they say this information is all publicly available–and I’m sure it is.  But if I had to look all that up on my own, I can pretty well guarantee you that it would take me more than the 3.2 seconds or so that I can do it on this site.  I’m not going to give you any examples because I like all my friends and want to keep them, and I think  putting in a complete stranger’s name would be dirty pool.

So, why am I telling you this if I could get the information anyway and I think privacy is pretty non-existent on the web?  Good question.

It’s because even though the information is there, I don’t believe in making it that easy to find.  We should have the ability to have at least a smidgen of privacy–we ought to at least get to keep something to ourselves.  Whatever happened to maintaining an alluring air of mystery?

It is not necessarily the most accurate database on the planet.  In addition to having me in the right place, it also had me in a place I used to live AND it had me married to my brother-in-law in another state where I’ve never lived.  No, we are most decidedly NOT that type of family.

And right now, maybe this is just an informational site, but who knows how it will be accessed in the future and how much more information they will have.  I already tell my kids and the young people I work with not to post things on the internet (like photos or social network statuses) that might come back and bite them in the backside someday.

You never know that a future employer, a possible lender or other important decision maker in your life might be accessing that information to make a life-changing decision for you.  Yes, employers and college recruiters DO look you up on the web–don’t be naive and foolish enough to think it doesn’t happen.  Now I can’t do anything about the dumb things you post on Facebook, but today, I’m prepared to tell you how to make it a little harder for Spokeo to share your information with the world.

Here’s how to remove yourself from Spokeo.  Go to Spokeo and type in your name.  When you find yourself, copy the url (that’s the long line of text in your browser’s address bar for your name, for the less geeky internet-savvy among us).  Then go to Spokeo’s privacy page and follow the steps to opt-out.  If you’ve lived in more than one place in the last few years, you may need to do it more than once.  I actually showed up four times in four states, one of which I’ve never even lived in (I’ve moved twice in the last 11 years).  I’ve done this for all the members of my household and it does work.  I’m not there anymore.

And, yes, for what it’s worth, I hate that I am giving them publicity, but I understand their hits and searches have been going through the roof, so in this case, it’s better that I tell you than not.


Marie Leslie is the chief Creative Genius at  Marie Leslie Media.  With 30 years experience as a professional writer, editor and photographer she has had work published in many regional and national magazines. Marie currently writes and teaches about business and social media, helping people to understand and make use of the ever-changing internet.  She offers social media training and set up, including blog set-up and optimization as well as blog writing & social media management services.

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  1. Elise Adams says:

    Thank you..sincerely, for this info. I am a domestic violence survivor. While I have no illusions that it’s possible to literally disappear I don’t like the idea of being found in 3.2 seconds!!! Glad there is a way to pull those records…at least from this one site anyway.


  2. Norma Doiron says:

    Absolutely agree. From the beginning I’ve always been very careful what I post on the internet. It’s just like the spoken word – once out there, it’s not possible to take it back…

    Great post, I loved it! x0x