|Founded||Mountain View, California, USA (2006)|
|Headquarters||Pasadena, California, USA|
|Founder(s)||Mike Daly, Harrison Tang, Ray Chen, and Eric Liang|
|Alexa rank||2,028 (April 2014[update])|
|Type of site||People Search Engine|
|Registration||None Required for General Use|
Spokeo is a people search website that aggregates data from many online and offline sources (such as phone directories, social networks, photo albums, marketing surveys, mailing lists, government censuses, real estate listings, and business websites). This aggregated data has in the past included demographic data, social profiles, and estimated property and wealth values.
All data collected by Spokeo is publicly accessible from its original sources. According to the site, Spokeo does not originate data and information available is only as good as its source. The information available originates from information people provide that becomes public information “even if a person isn't on Facebook or Twitter”.
Spokeo was founded in 2006 by a group of Stanford graduates—Mike Daly, Harrison Tang, Ray Chen, and Eric Liang. The idea came from Tang, who found it difficult to keep up with all the different social media posts and communications his friends had across the many social media portals on the Internet. The four founders developed the idea and project in early 2006, using Tang's parent's basement. The name of the website, "Spokeo", is a made-up word that is a metaphor for a wheel’s ability to connect in a circular way. Spokes, or the rods radiating from the center, or hub, of a wheel, forms a circle. Similarly, the name is designed to reflect how people can become more interconnected by using the website.
A test version of the site in April of that year. The startup was based in Mountain View, California. Venture Beat described the initial idea as, "[A]nother one of those things that seems so obvious, and helpful: It gives you a way to import, into one page, all of the postings your friends have made at about 20 popular social networking sites. In other words, it combines Facebook, MySpace, Flickr and all the others into one." In November 2006 the site officially launched, after attracting an initial round of angel investment in the "low hundreds of thousands" according to co-founder Ray Chen.
In 2008, Spokeo redesigned the website by changing the interface to allow for easier searching. Under the revision, users could import contacts from email address books and create "Friend Lists" that provide updates to recent profile changes for public profiles. Information reflected friends’ updated blogs, video playlists, and photo albums. As a techjaws.com article pointed out, this feature allows a user to start browsing immediately without any "tedious set up". Pandia Search Engine News wrote: "It was a real eye opener when I saw all the content that Spokeo came up with on my friends and contacts based on nothing but my Gmail address. Here are Flixster movie ratings, Pandora play lists and Last.fm favorites, Flickr and Picasa photos, Twitter posts, Vox blog entries (along with uploaded videos, images etc), Digg and StumbleUpon reviews, LinkedIn information, MySpace posts, Slide.com uploads, Amazon.com wishlist items and more".
On December 27, 2010, Spokeo released "username search", which scans social networks, blogs, photo albums, dating sites, music networks, video sites, e-commerce stores, and other web services in real time to help find online profiles with similar usernames.
Spokeo utilizes deep web crawlers to aggregate data. In September 2013 Spokeo refocused its business towards trying to reconnect friends and colleagues. Chen stated that the refocus followed "a survey of its users found that reconnecting with friends and family was the main goal of Spokeo subscribers" according to Paresh Dave of the Los Angeles Times. The Times also wrote, "The new homepage has buttons for small businesses and nonprofits too. Spokeo suggests that those organizations can use the service to research potential clients or donors and to detect fraud. Another feature is a celebrity search that loads a Wikipedia-like profile of famous people that includes personal information such as a family tree and limited location history."
Searches for people can be made from a name, email, phone number, username or address, though the number of searches per month are limited for searches other than those by name. In response to prior privacy problems the site encountered, the site also introduced a new method for users to remove information about themselves from the site through an "opt-out" process. Spokeo aggregates information from public records already on the Internet and does not do original research into personal data. It also aggregates marketing data approximations into the data it finds from social media and online registry sites.
Each of the founders are still in executive positions with the company, with Ray Chen serving as Chief Executive Officer, Harrison Tang serving as President, Michael S. Daly serving as Chief Software Architect, and Eric Liang as Chief Technology Officer. Yevgeny Goldenberg is Chief Revenue Officer. In 2012, Angela Saverice-Rohan joined the company as Chief Privacy Officer and General Counsel. In 2013 Kristen Morquecho became VP of Communications after leaving Yahoo as corporate communications director.
Using a site like Spokeo requires a certain level of trust. For example, when a user searches for a phone number on Spokeo, the site may indicate that the number has been found but that the user must subscribe or make a one-time payment to reveal it. After paying, many users have found that the revealed information is "unknown" or that it is clearly inaccurate. The customer may then worry that they have lost their money, may face a difficult cancellation process and have exposed their credit card and personal information to a company in the business of selling such information. Further information about customer concerns may be found on various web sites.
Privacy and safety concerns
In Spring 2010, Spokeo released version 4 of its website. Shortly thereafter, CBS47 aired a short piece on Spokeo outlining local law enforcement agencies' concerns that the site would enable cyberstalking. They reported that credit information was being included in some online profiles and that Spokeo had recently removed a feature that provided photos of private residences. In 2010, search results on Spokeo offered to provide a "credit estimate" and "wealth level" information, as well as information about a target's mortgage value, estimated income, and investments. Spokeo CEO Harrison Tang has said that credit information is not actually available through Spokeo.
On June 30, 2010, the Center for Democracy and Technology filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that Spokeo violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by offering consumer profiles without any of the controls mandated by the act. Additionally, they alleged that Spokeo.com engaged in unfair and deceptive practices in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act. On July 7, 2010, Spokeo released a blog titled "Spokeo Responds To CDT’s Complaint". On June 12, 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined Spokeo with an $800,000 fine for marketing information to human resource departments for employment screening without adhering to consumer protection provided by the FCRA—the first FTC fine involving personal data collected online and sold to potential employers. Under the settlement, in addition to the $800,000 fine for Spokeo’s FCRA and FTC violations, Spokeo is required to submit compliance reports to the FTC for twenty years.
On July 20, 2010, a class action lawsuit was filed against Spokeo seeking injunctive relief and monetary damages for the alleged violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the lawsuit was dismissed for Lack of Standing in the judge's ruling. In response to these problems, Dave of the Los Angeles Times wrote that chief privacy officer Angela Saverice-Rohan, "[S]aid Spokeo has examined each of its vendors during the past year to make sure they are getting data in ways that are compliant with state and federal privacy laws. One of the areas being scrutinized recently for collecting data with little or no notice has been mobile phone apps. Saverice-Rohan made clear Spokeo isn’t buying any such data."
The company provides business services, including search result data augmentation, CRM and ATS integration, E-commerce customer demographics, and custom projects and consulting. It supports various data sources including social networks, photo albums, music playlists, video sites, business databases, and RSS feeds. Concerns have been raised about the accuracy of these services. Spokeo's Premium membership features a tracking system. After an account is added to a Friends list, Spokeo regularly checks for new updates from the account, providing a notification in the update counter to allow users to keep track of new information.
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