June 10, 2009

Spokeo Debuts Social Mining Tool Based on E-mail Addresses

Spokeo, having long since given up its initial plans to aggregate all your friends' activity alongside RSS feeds, in what could have been an interesting mashup of FriendFeed and Google Reader, has meandered ever closer to the darker side of Web, positioning itself as a tool to uncover details about people, most likely without their knowledge, and certainly without their implicit permission. The company took another step forward with this plan today, unveiling an "email research tool" that lets you search and find all the online activity associated with that address - crawling more than 40 networks.

If you remember your Spokeo history, back in October of 2008, the service declared Web 2.0 "over" and ditched its initial plans of posting trusted friends' updates with ads everywhere. So of course, this new research tool is not free.

To save you the trouble, I ponied up $35.40, the equivalent of $2.95 a month for 12 months (which automatically renews), to see what damage I could do by querying a few friends e-mail addresses. Luckily, I haven't had to pay per address, but can query as many as I like, to find what secrets they might be hiding.

Looking up one friend using Spokeo's research tool...

Results! Spokeo turns up Rob's activity around the Web.

For those friends I already follow on other aggregation services, the results were hardly eye-opening. The data was accurate for me, gathering results from every network from Friendster to Flickr, LinkedIn and a ton of stops in between. Spokeo also was able to dredge up the personal details of folks like Wayne Sutton, who was spotted on 16 different social networks.

Wayne, unsurprisingly, was found everywhere.

For friends not quite as active online, the service was not always as accurate. One friend of mine was falsely reported as a Hector Hernandez in one case, and in another case as Holly Hensley. Neither was the right profile. But for another, it found a Facebook profile I didn't know existed.

Spokeo found my blog posts, tweets and links to me.

Spokeo also found my registrations across networks.

Unlike some Web 2.0 companies who have either clung to broken or missing business models, or instead, closed their doors, Spokeo is trying to make a go of it, leveraging the technology that once looked up your friends, and now, for a fee, will look up anyone you like. They won't even know. After all - isn't it their own fault for putting that data out there?