In Case of Facebook Addiction, Read This

Don Tennant

An excellent article on CSOonline.com today gives you 10 reasons why you should quit Facebook, beginning with this one: "Your privacy is history." If you still need nine reasons other than that to quit, you're an addict.


Peer pressure compelled me to try Facebook a while back, but thankfully, I quit before I got hooked. I found it invasive, intrusive, annoying and a colossal waste of time, so I had no problem dumping it. If I hadn't, I hate to think how much more thoroughly violated I would have felt when I came across my unauthorized profile on Spokeo.com.


In case you're not familiar with it, Spokeo aggregates your personal information from a host of sources, notably social media Web sites, and presents it to anyone who searches on your name. To its credit, the site does have an easily accessible link to a privacy page that explains what it does:

Spokeo aggregates publicly available information from phone books, social networks, marketing surveys, real estate listings, business websites, and other public sources. Spokeo does not originate data or publish user-generated content like Facebook or MySpace. Rather, Spokeo indexes third-party data in ways similar to Google or Bing. Spokeo does not control or maintain any aggregated third-party data, and therefore cannot guarantee its accuracy or currentness. Spokeo does not publish any information for children under 18.

What Spokeo doesn't explain is what it considers "user-generated content." The profile it had on me, for example, included the photograph I use in my Twitter profile, and that was certainly user-generated. But what's really disturbing is the content that I didn't generate. My Spokeo profile, which I have removed, also included:


  • My address and a photograph of my home.
  • The names of members of my household and links to their profiles.
  • My length of residence in this home.
  • The fact that I'm "not interested in politics."
  • The fact that I "care about healthy living."
  • The fact that I "donate to causes."


Removing my profile was easy-there's a mechanism on that same privacy page that enables you to remove your profile, although it forces you to provide your e-mail address to do it. No doubt they had my e-mail address on record, and used that for identity verification.


If you're a social media junkie, and even if you're not, take the time today to go to Spokeo.com and remove the profile they almost certainly have on you. And if you're on Facebook, go read that CSOonline.com article. It might just be the treatment you need to break your addiction.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Mar 22, 2010 11:42 AM Ann All Ann All  says:

This site is pretty scary. It's not the info, as that's pretty much been out there for years. But putting it in one highly public place gives it a much more invasive feel. It also makes it easier for companies trying to target us w/ ads, though it's not going to be all that helpful for them if my profile is any indication. More than half of it, including very basic and widely available info like marital status, was wrong. I don't seem to be quite as well documented as Don. I am going to remove my info, though Spokeo clearly says it will only be removed from its site, not from third-party sites that may also have the data.

Mar 23, 2010 7:40 PM Rita Rita  says:

In software development and in statistical data reporting, we sometimes use a practice called obfuscation.  In effect, this amounts to leaving information in plain site but messing it up with inconsistencies, inaccuracies or just extra garbage. 

It appears to me that spokeo.com is naturally obfuscated.  The profiles for my adult daughter and me are identical and largely wrong.  I'm listed as a member of my household twice, with two spellings of my name.  The information seems to be pretty old, and the fact that you cannot trust most of it effectively hides the parts that are accurate.

Yes, there is a picture of my house, but you can see my house in public already -- look me up in the phone book, find my address and drive by. 

Lack of privacy is a genuine concern for things that are genuinely private.  It does not look to me like spokeo.com exposes any secrets for the people I know.

Mar 24, 2010 8:22 AM Jared Jared  says:

I can understand the concern that this article brings up. Certainly, I am worried about what others can see about me on the internet. However, the issue raised in this article does not worry me at all.

I inspected my 'profile' on Spokeo, and what appears to be a detailed account of my personal information is, in fact, a default profile that has been set up because they were able to find my name and address from some source (which the address listed for me is not the address listed on my Facebook profile). It is obvious that it is a default as, like Don Tennant and the rest of my family's 'profiles', I also am not interested in politics, I care about healthy living, and I donate to causes (which i have not had the pleasure to do yet at this point in time). Clearly Facebook is not the cause, as my name and address can be found in a phone book, and with that, Google Earth would easily be able to present the picture.

From what I can see, maybe there is more in-depth information about me from what I can see without having subscribed. However, in order to see any actual information, I would need to sign up for a  subscription  to Spokeo with a monthly fee attached. If someone really wants to pay money to see my profile, which I can almost guarantee is not accurate, my only question is: 'Why am I not getting a cut of the subscription fee?' Perhaps they already sent me a check to the address they have on record, which is not accurate.

All in all, I think that we have a case here of an article written to draw a number of conclusions out of one interesting fact. The article title indicates that the article is only for 'Facebook addicts', although it appears that if this is really an issue, it should be addressed to all Facebook users. Also, the majority of the article talks about security issues with Spokeo obtaining information, not Facebook. Finally, the article is pointing out the supposed security issues with Facebook , when, in reality, Facebook gives their users a strong handle on their security as opposed to certain other sites.

I am inclined to agree with the other comments on this article: It is misguided and misleading. There is no need to strike fear in the hearts of social networking users for something like this.

Mar 24, 2010 9:22 AM spyface spyface  says: in response to Jared

This site is pretty  it easier for companies trying to target...

Mar 24, 2010 10:52 AM Kachina Shaw Kachina Shaw  says:

I checked the site and found that much of the information listed for me was wrong. Frankly, I see that as a good sign and intend to leave it untouched. If someone wants to take some sort of action based on incorrect information, I have no problem with that. I can also tell that very little, or perhaps none, of that information came from Facebook, but probably from surveys I've filled out on other sites over the years. I have my Facebook profile locked down pretty tightly and it seems to be working.

Mar 24, 2010 12:58 PM Anonymous Anonymous  says:

Re-title suggestion: "If you've been as oblivious to personal privacy and common sense as I have been, the Internet is scary."

Mar 24, 2010 6:16 PM Jimmie White Jimmie White  says:

Hey Don, great article. It's interesting to see the effort being given to gather every detail that can be gathered about everyone in the world. Big brother is always watching, I suppose. Which means that people should mind their P's and Q's (which they really should do anyway).

Nonetheless, the reason that I am writing is because I have a multitude of online profiles but was not able to find a single instance of myself (although I did see one picture of me, but it was linked to someone else's profile). The fact that I'm not listed might be a ray of sunshine for those "social junkies". I typically configure all my online profiles to not be public, but only available to friends. The point I'm getting at is, if you take greater care in using available privacy filters when setting up new online profiles, you might be able to maintain a bit of mystery about yourself!

Mar 24, 2010 6:31 PM K K  says:

Ok...so what is the big hairy deal...does the fact that someone KNOWS you like healthy living really keep you up at night? Facebook is the bomb. I have found pieces of my life I might otherwise have never found, childhood friends, relatives, etc that I lost touch with because I was too young to do anything about losing those threads when my family moved. Now I can keep up with people without feeling compelled to email, write cards, letters or do anything more than log in and I know what is going on in their lives. I am connected in a benevolent meaningful picture filled way that doesn't take any more time than I have to give. For people who are isolated this is a godsend. For people who aren't, for a few minutes you can keep everyone up to date, kind of like those newsy Christmas cards. Anyone with a brain can figure out the basic privacy guards and utilize them as needed. If our credit card data is being hacked and so is NASA what makes Fb any more of a risk? Stop being such a nerd!

Mar 24, 2010 6:36 PM KL KL  says:

I checked spokeo and could not my name, my spouse, any of my children, my relatives, my closest friends or co-workers...wow...some BIG threat that is...do some more credible research next time.

Mar 24, 2010 7:24 PM Ann All Ann All  says: in response to K

I know Don Tennant. I've worked w/ Don Tennant. And Don Tennant is most assuredly not a nerd.

Mar 24, 2010 7:38 PM DRL DRL  says: in response to KL

Actually if found all kinds of stuff on me, much of it I did not post, and am not certain where the information came from I opted to remove my information. Those that did not find their profile, count your blessings, and don't belittle someone who is trying to save your skin.

I for one, thank you for posting this, as I was unaware of this site.

Mar 25, 2010 8:09 AM Steve Eilertsen Steve Eilertsen  says: in response to K

The sign of maturity is the ability to express a valid option without getting abusive or rude. This is not a stage you have reached yet.

Mar 25, 2010 8:52 AM Mike Weber Mike Weber  says:

Although I like the idea of you thinking that Facebook is evil, keel in mind the site you refered to collects information from SEVERAL sites, not just Facebook.

Depending on your privacy settings, (mine are locked down to just name search and no other information is available to Facebook searches, or outside the Facebook community) Spokeo does have information posted about me, most of it wrong. Yes, my address is listed. Yes my wife is listed as a resident of that address. Yes Google Maps has a street view of my house (and 2 others as well, guess which one is mine from the picture), but that's about all that's correct.

I've 43, have been using Facebook as a grad student at MIchigan State since 2005, before it was opened to everyone. I use it to keep in contact with both high school and college classmates, not for professional networking. That's what my LinkedIn profile is for.

The generalization that you write about here, "Facebook is evil and you need to delete your account" is about as fair and balanced of reporting as the "news" service that used said slogan.

Thanks for presenting both sides.

Mar 25, 2010 6:16 PM Michael Kahr Michael Kahr  says: in response to KL

Consider yourself lucky, I checked the site and all the info it had on me was accureate to the letter, I think you need to grow up and not belittle someone who is trying to inform other people of the importance of keeping their "private" information just how it should be PRIVATE!!!

Mar 28, 2010 8:37 AM joeblow joeblow  says: in response to Michael Kahr

Discovered spokeo today and the result of several searches was erratic but sill VERY unsettling.  My personal info was out of date, listing only my old office information.  They did however completely TAG my GF with whom I live.  Full name, age, address and a google maps PHOTO OF OUR HOME.  Lest you think you can be protected by staying away from the internet, note that my folks were BOTH listed as was their home address and once again a PHOTO of their home.  Here's the kicker: NEITHER OF THEM HAS EVER WRITTEN AN EMAIL IN THEIR LIVES.  Brutally scary.

Mar 29, 2010 5:59 PM Ann All Ann All  says: in response to joeblow

Right. As I mentioned in my earlier comment, much of this info appears to be drawn from all of the financial info traded and sold by banks and other credit card issuers. They've been doing it for years and years. Unlike social networking, it was and is done under the radar. Home ownership interests them very much, as does number of family members, car ownership, etc., etc. All public info that they can use to pitch financial services to you.

Mar 31, 2010 8:51 AM JS JS  says:

None of these data aggregation sites have any useful purpose, including PeopleFinders, Zabasearch, and any others.  The primary customer for these services is the US Government, which extorts tax dollars from us and then spends them on these sites to spy on us.

If I wanted to be in contact with people from my past, I already would be.  The fact that they're not in my present speaks volumes as to their importance to me and mine to them.

Apr 1, 2010 11:22 AM SarahN SarahN  says: in response to DRL

Don, I think this was an extremely helpful article, and I am surprised at some of the comments above.

I went to the site and immediately found my home address, phone number, pictures with my ex boyfriend of 5 years ago, etc. I followed the steps to delete my profile, and have since alerted my family and friends.

Like many readers, I have a private Facebook account where no one can search for me, and I am not on Twitter or Myspace. Where this info came from is beyond me, but thanks to this article I have more peace of mind!

Apr 1, 2010 7:40 PM Sophie Luu Sophie Luu  says:

Your personal and professional information online is termed online reputation. Your reputation can be ruined with the information, whether false or true, posted by these websites (Spokeo, whitepages.com, etc...). People you meet and employers will look up your personal and professional information. So the information on you out there isn't for you but for other people to use. And whether your online reputation is false or true, you might not get the job you applied for, might be denied a home, or someone you upset might come knocking on your door, etc..., based solely on that information. Do they care whether your information is true or not? NO. If you don't care about your online reputation, someone else will.

Have you heard of Unvarnished and why should you care? It lets people give their opinion about others. So if someone at work doesn't like you, for example, they can tarnish your professional reputation by posting defamation about you.

Apr 5, 2010 6:43 PM Suchitra Poduval Suchitra Poduval  says: in response to K

I totally agree dude! But having said that, I only get annoyed with people who reveal too many stupid details, such as what they are doing right now and why their 2 year old didn't sleep last night! I mean who the $&@# cares?? Or initimate conversations with their spouses, like "sweetheart what can I make for dinner tonite for you?? Anything special?? Chicken pot pie?? Ok boss!" I'm quoting! But apart from this objectionable part, I feel blessed to be a part of facebook because I could get in touch with school friends I last saw more than 20 years ago and could have never in my lifetime have imagined ever meeting again!

Apr 6, 2010 11:10 AM anonymous anonymous  says: in response to Suchitra Poduval

First of all, if someone really wants to find information on you they're going to get it one way or another.  Secondly, a lot of the information I've heard is on these profiles is highly public anyway so what's the big deal?  Big whoop somebody can see a picture of my house, or they know mine or my wife's name, or how many kids I have, or if "I'm not interested in politics." Thirdly, if you don't want information publicly available on the internet, then DON'T PUT IT THERE!

Apr 21, 2010 8:49 AM Michelle Devon Michelle Devon  says:

Did you know that removing your information only removes it from the public search and that paying subscribers can still see it if they pay for it?

Read the TOCs and FAQs. It states it very clearly.

Sep 8, 2011 12:04 PM Mental Health Specialist Mental Health Specialist  says:

What many people don't understand is the addictive quality that comes along with prolonged dependence on Facebook for social interactions. This addiction can send people, more often throughout the years, to make a call for therapy for help.

Sep 18, 2011 7:29 PM Gayane Gayane  says:

Wanna know how to make use of facebook addiction???

It's not such a negative phenomenon as everyone thinks!

See how here



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