Our campus newspaper took a look at the dangers of social networking last week (just in case it hadn’t been done enough in the last few years by other media outlets) and noted that Spokeo seems to take Facebook’s propensity towards aggregation and turn it up to eleven. Curious about this site, I decided to make my own account and give it a try.

The long and short of it is that:

  1. It does pull together a somewhat creepy amount of information about your “friends,” and
  2. It requires all your login credentials.

You have to enter login information for every social networking site you wish it to pull data from. Spokeo claims that it do not store these credentials, rather using them to import what it needs that single time, but I have trouble believing that claim. Suffice it to say that I’ll be spending a portion of my day developing some brand new passwords and changing every account I own.

Even more interesting/startling is when you import friends from Facebook or Myspace and Spokeo then cross-references their email address against sites you may not even visit to see if your friends are on there. People who have shared their Facebook profile with me now are sharing their Flikr pages with me, they just don’t know it because they never told me about their Flikr page, Spokeo did.

It’s a net-stalker’s dream, and an intriguing site to be sure, but I can’t feel comfortable using it. As Spokeo points out in their disclaimers, they’re not pulling any information you don’t already have access to. I am technically able to get a person’s email address from Myspace, and then I could go myself to Flikr and look them up. The difference is that I didn’t and wouldn’t; the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. What’s more, the site does it all for me; it’s like having a site named Stalkers’R’Us that aggregates all public/state information on a person and hands it to you (address, phone number, birthdate, email/website addresses, SSN) without you having to do more than login and click “import.”

It’s novel, and I think the creators have done some good work. The site is classy, well-functioning, smooth… and the principle behind it isn’t necessarily bad. I’m just not comfortable with it.

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