The TallyCast

…all polite and classy.

Privacy; get over it!

A current meme in my world is internet privacy.  Several friends have recently discovered spokeo (“not your grandmother’s white pages”) and have become outraged by the information available.  Spokeo features (among other things) information on your personal and financial history, your residence, where you work, who you associate with and what your interests are. It includes photographs of many people, and even street and satellite views of their homes.  In my case, the information was about 50% accurate.  I’m not doing anything to correct the errors (confusion to the enemy!) but expect that it’s just a matter of time.

The dirty secret about privacy is that you never really had any.  There’s a ton of data about you available and it has been for a very long time.  It’s just that in the past, that information was expensive to get and difficult to find.  You could buy targeted mailing lists or financial statements or property records or whatever, but it wasn’t easy.  Use of such information was, for the most part, limited to individuals and organizations with money. Think Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade.

These days, the internet, along with open records laws, FOIA and all their cousins have changed the game.  Now with a little bit of savvy and a fair dose of rudeness, anybody can easily get pretty much any information they want on pretty much anybody.  It’s a stalkers paradise.

This democratization of access to personal information is producing a cultural shift in our relationship to our information.  Society is fighting against this shift with legislation like HIPPA and FERPA, but in the end, they are doomed to failure.  Information wants to be free with the dizzying development of information technology, it is.

Spokeo has an opt-out procedure, and they will remove your name from their database, but in reality it’s a futile effort.  Everything Spokeo has on you is available somewhere else for a few bucks or in most cases, just for the asking.

While we can’t ever get that privacy back, and really never had it in the first place, we can demand a little tit-for-tat.  For example, I don’t mind if my medical information is public as long as I have access to affordable health care.

So buck up, get over that feeling of being exposed, and fight for fairness.
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  1. I agree with your point that trying to track down companies that collect our information and opting out of them is a fruitless endeavor. It seems like you’ve overstated the case about ‘information wants to be free’. Not all data, but that which should be protected, or not collected to start with, can be legislated how that data is handled and I think that fight is worth fighting still.

  2. As of today, Spokeo is no longer free. Now you have to pay $2.99/month for access to the information on the site.

  3. Wow, Spokeo thinks I’m single. This despite the fact that both my marriage license and my husband’s name on the mortgage are public record. A single Leon County property records search would pull up more accurate info.


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