Online Privacy: Your Life Is an Open Book

Protect Yourself: Your Personal Information is Available Online

For a $2.95 a month subscription on Spokeo.com, anyone can find your name, age, ethnicity, marital status, religion, politics, address, home phone number, mobile phone number, e-mail address, social networking profiles, photos, videos and blogs.

The website uses an algorithm to search public databases, so the information is only as accurate as the sources, but many may be surprised by the amount of accurate information available online. As opposed to social networks, people search engines like Spokeo.com do not require you to sign up for anything in order for your information to be found.

Video: Company helps you protect your privacy when social networking.
Protect your privacy when social networking

Search yourself on Spokeo.com and you may be surprised to find how much information is available to anyone with a computer and a modem. Although public records have always made certain information available, the Internet age, and the subsequent rise of social networks, has increased the ease with which people can track down general, and personal, information about you. But are these sites also a new tool for scammers and identity thieves?

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's office released a consumer alert about Spokeo on May 7.

"The difference with these web sites is that information from a variety of disparate sources is aggregated, collated, and presented in one place. It's like pieces of a puzzle put together. The result is that consumers enjoy less privacy, and that is understandably shocking," the AG said on its website.

"The reason we singled out [Spokeo] is we received numerous inquiries from consumers," Arkansas Deputy Attorney General Jim DePriest told ABC News, although he made clear that Spokeo is one of many sites that aggregate personal information. "Consumers are a little taken aback that this information is available in one place, and they feel that their privacy has been invaded, so we are responding to those fears."

Is Online Privacy a Misnomer?

Facebook, the leading social network, on Wednesday addressed user privacy concerns ahead of a proposed "walk out" that had been planned for May 31 by some of that site's users. New settings unveiled this week by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg simplify privacy settings on the social network, giving users more control over how their information is shared with third parties. MySpace has also recently re-vamped its privacy settings.

Spokeo co-founder Harrison Tang believes that Facebook chose not to simply retract the public information in question because people want to share their information online.

"There is such a dilemma between sharing someone's information and hiding information. You cannot have both," responds Tang. "The more information people share, obviously the more connected they are. The less people share, the more isolated people will be. From our statistics, and our studies on the web, we believe, and we think Facebook and MySpace believe, that the web is becoming more people-centric."

Security experts believe that although people search engines provide publically available information and are not acting illegally, they are making it much easier for identity thieves to steal your information.

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