|Founded||Mountain View, California, USA (2006)|
|Headquarters||Pasadena, California, USA|
|Founder(s)||Mike Daly, Harrison Tang, Ray Chen, and Eric Liang|
|Alexa rank||2,674 (September 2015[update])|
|Type of site||People Search Engine|
|Registration||Subscription required for most uses|
Spokeo is a people search website that aggregates data from online and offline sources.
Spokeo was founded in 2006 by a group of people who graduated from Stanford University—Mike Daly, Harrison Tang, Ray Chen, and Eric Liang. The original idea came from Tang, who found it difficult to keep up with all the different posts his friends made across various social networks. The four founders developed the idea in early 2006, using Tang's parent's basement. 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.
The site has evolved to become an information-gathering website that offers various options for finding information about people. It purports to know, among other things, your income, religion, spouse's name, credit status, the number of people in your household, a satellite shot of your house and its estimated value.
Criticisms, complaints and lawsuits are common for the site. Larry Ponemon, the chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute, an organization that researches Internet privacy and security said: “It's evil for organizations to collect information that is knowingly inaccurate about people, no matter how many caveats they have,” he said, pointing out that the sites also make it easy for criminals to access your personal information, opening the door to identity theft—or worse.
Spokeo utilizes deep web crawlers to aggregate data. Searches can be made for a name, email, phone number, username or address. The site allows users to remove information about themselves through an "opt-out" process. Spokeo aggregates information from public records and does not do original research into personal data. It aggregates marketing data approximations into the data it finds from social media and online registry sites.
Privacy complaints and legal troubles
When Spokeo released version 4 of its website, KGPE-TV aired a 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 a feature that provided photos of private residences. 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.
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.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined Spokeo $800,000 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.
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 initially dismissed for lack of standing. The case was appealed and Spokeo lost. Spokeo has appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case on April 27, 2015.
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