May 11, 2010

Spokeo Yanks Street Address Searches Over Privacy

As the debate over Facebook's recent moves around privacy (or lack thereof) continues to rage, one social search engine that has always lived on the edge of the rules is backing off a bit in one specific way that it lets people discover you based on your real world data. Spokeo, which I have been watching since 2007 and which has seen tremendous growth of late (which I highlighted last month), said today in a quick blog post that they are removing the ability to search within its database by street address.

One can easily see why the company's users found this particular feature a little unsettling, even if Spokeo is tapping into public records for all the data they have in store. Want to know more about your neighbor, or want to find the social network data of everyone on your street? Spokeo just made it a little harder.

With Spokeo's traffic continuing to boom, reaching more than a million unique visitors in March alone, according to, awareness of the site is increasing. I even got a question about Spokeo today at the office - and as is typical, the question was one of unsettled concern, which won't be put at ease much with today's minor tweak.

Following last month's article, Harrison Tang, co-founder of Spokeo, sent me a note saying the company is "committed to build the best people search engine there is," adding, "We truly believe that the definition of a 'new technology' means breaking the norm. We understand that some people will love it, and others will not. All we can do is to try the best we can to accommodate everyone's needs, while remembering that we are on a mission to do something different."

Spokeo certainly is different. While Facebook is changing the way it approaches user data and is trending toward public, Spokeo has never been apologetic about its approach. If you are interested in removing your data from Spokeo, you can start on their privacy page - but as they state, "Spokeo does not originate data or publish user-generated content" and that data is already out there somewhere else.