Spokeo or should it be Spookey – search people in the deep web!

 O’Reilly talks about “Data is the next Intel Inside” (2007, p. 27). As I am new to the game of Information Technology, I first have to work out what he is referring to when he says ‘Intel Inside’, so for those of you, who don’t know, read the next paragraph.

Intel was the leading supplier of microprocessor chips for personal computers but if you were to mention the word ‘microprocessor’ to a consumer in 1991, you would most likely get a mystified stare in return. Intel microprocessors were used exclusively as an input to other manufacturer’s products. The other manufacturer did all the marketing of the end product and created all of the value in the consumer’s eyes (Norris, 1993).  Therefore Intel launched an Intel Inside® Program, the first time a PC component manufacturer successfully communicated directly to computer buyers. The Intel brand is one of the top ten known-brands in the world (Intel, 1998) and everyone has heard their 5 note jingle (Wikipedia, 2011).

Basically Intel had the product but had to tell the world about it. When O’Reilly talks about data being the next Intel Inside, he is referring to data being the important component of Web 2.0. If a company has control over a unique source of data that is required for Web 2.0 applications, they should be able to charge large sums of money for the use of that data (O’Reilly & Battelle, 2009).

“Without the data, the tools are useless” (O’Reilly, 2007)

The Web 2.0 application

Spokeo is a people search engine that allows the user to search for anyone via a name, email, phone or username search. Spokeo specializes in aggregating and organizing vast quantities of people-related information from more than 50 public sources including phone books, social networks, marketing lists, online maps, real estate records and others. Therefore, I feel it is the perfect example of a product that is the next ‘Intel Inside’

Search results can include a person’s

  • Address
  • Phone Number
  • Email Address
  • Age
  • Marital Status
  • Ethnicity
  • Wealth Estimate
  • Education
  • Family Tree….

Photos by Herry Lawford

  • Profiles on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter
  • Profiles on dating websites like Match.com and OKCupid
  • Photos on Flickr or PhotoBucket
  • Videos from YouTube and Vimeo
  • Reviews of products on Amazon or eBay
  • Blogs on Blogger and LiveJournal (Spokeo People Search, 2012)
  • Even what type of heating and cool a person’s home has……

Spokeo is a single location with a unique collection of data. The information is all publicly available elsewhere but Spokeo utilizes deep web crawlers to aggregate the data. The deep web technology reduces data acquisition costs and allows some information to be viewed by users free of charge (Wikipedia, 2012).

Other similar applications

There are many people search engines available in the United States including Pipl, Wink, Zabasearch, Spock, YoName and PeekYou (SimilarGroup, 2012). These sites are all similar sites to Spokeo using slightly different methods of finding the data required. For example PeekYou uses Spokeo for location data and uses Google Maps whereas Spokeo uses Bing for its maps. PeekYou claims to search New Zealand, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, Canada, India and China but is very USA centric and will locate people in the USA as a fallback search. Spokeo claims their reports merge “real life” data with “social network information” whereas most of the other applications do not merge both sets of data (Spokeo People Search, 2012).

Legal and ethical issues

The question is how accurate is the data? Firstly, Spokeo does not guarantee data accuracy, and its data should only be used as a reference(Spokeo People Search, 2012). Timothy Duffy has compiled some general notes about the accuracy of Spokeo and suggests the basic profile including address and phone number is very accurate, along with the names and ages of household members. The photos are not accurate at all and then around 50 percent of the interests are right (Duffy, 2010). Consideration has to be taken when using this data. It should not be used as a solid reference when investigating a new employee for example. It may be used as a starting point for further research using other people search engines. Even Google should be able to verify the data that Spokeo supplies. Spokeo cannot verify any of the data but are they not under some sort of obligation to supply a certain level of accuracy? Why would anyone actually pay for this inaccurate data?

 “Separately, these information nuggets are innocent enough, but together they paint a picture of a person that is more detailed than I personally appreciate. It must be a gold mine for private investigators, stalkers and other unsavoury people (Phil Bradley, 2008).”

Users are very concerned about privacy and their rights to their own data. Luckily, Spokeo allows people to remove their data from their database. There are restrictions on the amount of data that a person can request to be removed each week from the same IP address. Spokeo claims that spammers have removed hundreds of listings at a time and this is a way of stopping it. I personally think they are trying to make it too difficult for people to remove data.

Photo by rpongsaj

Future directions

Without a doubt, Spokeo will do everything possible to make the information they provide more precise and more detailed. People are publishing more and more personal data on the internet so it has to be expected that applications will use this data to their best advantage and be the next Intel Inside company.

All I can say is that I am relieved that most of the sites are currently aggregating only the USA for data. I am not looking forward to the day when a Spokeo user can find out how many bedrooms I have. Rather creepy I think!

Duffy, T. J. (2010, March 19th). Spokeo: The Internet White Pages for Stalkers. http://www.techi.com/2010/05/spokeo-the-internet-white-pages-for-stalkers/

Intel. (1998). Intel Inside® Program – Anatomy of a Brand Campaign. News Resources  Retrieved March 18th, 2012, from http://www.intel.com/pressroom/intel_inside.htm

Norris, D. G. (1993). “Intel Inside” Branding a Component in a Business Market. [DOI: 10.1108/08858629310027560]. Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 8(1), 14-24.

O’Reilly, T. (2007). What is Web 2.0: Design patterns and business models for the next generation of software.

O’Reilly, T., & Battelle, J. (2009). Web squared: Web 2.0 five years on. Web 2.0 Summit.

Phil Bradley. (2008, March 18th). Spokeo, the Big Brother of social networking. http://www.pandia.com/sew/620-spokeo.html

SimilarGroup. (2012). SimilarSites.com.   Retrieved March 19th, 2012, from http://www.similarsites.com/

Spokeo People Search. (2012). About Spokeo.   Retrieved March 19th, 2012, from http://www.spokeo.com/blog/help/

Wikipedia. (2011, 30 November 2011). Sound Branding.   Retrieved March 18th, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_branding

Wikipedia. (2012). Spokeo.   Retrieved March 18th, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spokeo


13 thoughts on “Spokeo or should it be Spookey – search people in the deep web!

  1. I agree with you! Creepy! Its like Phil Bradley says in the quote; the different data spread out over several places doesn’t seem that scary, but the collection can frighten you. I was surprised to see how much info it actually gathered. This web site is a good example of the data as the intel inside, since its all about the data 🙂

    -and I liked the intro with the history of intel

    • Thanks meretehole.
      It is fascinating to find these Web 2.0 applications out there that I never know existed! I am learning a huge amount about privacy and my identity on the web……

      • I know! I feel the same way! But I also enjoy experiencing the learning value you can achieve by reading other peoples blogs and answering comments on your own. I feel like I’m really getting into the whole life of web 2.0 applications. Pretty cool!

  2. I should say the method of how Spokeo collect and change data to value is clever. Spokeo’s success is a good example of “data as the Intel inside”. everyone want to get other people’s information. and i still doubt that the legality of Spokeo provide this kind of service.

    • It is interesting I have just read a Spokeo blog post and this is a direct quote

      We’re currently discussing options with law enforcement officials to crack down on people who may attempt to use our product to cause harm to others. (Do note that there’s never been a verified case of this happening in the past.)

      They also mention making changes so there is no limit to the amount of personal listings someone can remove, whereas I mentioned in the post that currently they restrict the number of requests to remove personal data to a certain number per IP address per month. Maybe a legal suggestion?

  3. yeah, it’s creepy, but from what I’ve heard it can be a useful tool for journalists. While most journalists maintain a code-of-ethics there are a number of other users who don’t, and that presents a problem. It may be worth mentioning this service, or summarising it on the class wiki. I believe we have a page about privacy.



    • Hi Dan,
      Thanks for the suggestion of adding it to the Wiki page. It is funny you suggest this as I have a signed myself up for that page. I have a real fascination for internet privacy and really look forward to trying to understand why people put themselves out there for the world to see. Or is it just that people are very naive and think that no one would do harm!

  4. Yes, it does look creepy when i’s all together. I mean I have my address listed in the white pages but seeing the spookeo layout with the map with the target over it looks like a stalker invented it! & why do they call themselves Spookeo! Thanks Nicole for an enjoyable but scary post. cheers.

    • Hi Suzy,
      After your mention of their strange name – I went in search for why they have called themselves Spokeo. There is a blog post about it mentioning that it is like a bike wheel with the centre being the hub and the spokes radiate out from it. They say Spokeo is the hub where people can meet, share and connect….I still like the Spooky comparison myself.

  5. Can’t say I am all that excited for this website to come into works in Australia. Although argueably, it’s only putting together data that the user themselves have put out onto the Internet. Why should the user then be concerned?

    I think perhaps it’s that depending on the websites, we manage to change slightly who we are and small personal details depending on the rest of the users (or the audience if you prefer).

    To allow someone that you don’t necessarly trust from another website where you’ve limited the amount of private details (or data) uploaded, to them now knowing things that perhaps only your close personal friends on facebook would know, is a daunting thought. It definently increases the stalking abilites of other humans and draws the idea of “why do we want or need this kind of site?”

    I know you mentioned the data acuracy above, but I’d be curious to see just how successful it is at gathering accurate data, and how easy it would be to fool?

    I’ve written an article on the importance of data, however I’ve taken a decidedly different approach, but I’d like to know your thoughts on it!


    • You have raised quite a few interesting points here, thanks.

      As you say users take on a different persona depending on what application and maybe even what user account they are using. So when all the accounts are combined onto one page the results are quite confronting. I would think most users would be scrambling to get the pages removed.

      Spokeo sells the site as a good place to find distant relations and school friends. It could also be used to check fraudulent or fake people. But I struggle to find any other positive reason…… there are many bad reasons to use it but I won’t list them, I don’t want to give anyone any ideas!

      The article by Tim Duffy that I have listed in the reference gives a good run down of how accurate Spokeo is in all areas of a users profile. The only accurate information is a user’s name and address as that information is pulled directly from the white pages. The rest is pretty much a lucky pick!

  6. If I search myself on Google, I can find a lot. But Spokeo don’t show anything about me. As you said, It is accessing data of limited geographical region. Anyways, I always find interesting to see how and what these kind of search engines crawl for you.

    Nowadays, our identity is no more hidden if we are on one of these social networking websites where we store data, and then search engine present our data in aggregated form in different perspectives just like Spokeo.

    • It is interesting to see a Web 2.0 application so restricted to only be able to search in one specific country. Maybe you have just come up with a new application…… it could make you a lot of money but also make you very unpopular with those who like their privacy now!

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