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Nothing But Net: E-Vasion of Privacy

Name: Bradford Pareso

Age: Early 20s

Home Owner: Yes


Lifestyle and Interests: Plays basketball, plays football, loves reading, has children, enjoys home decorating, enjoys food and wine, researches mutual funds

Number of people in household: 4+

Now if you’re biologically related to me, you already know that a large chunk of the information above is total BS (I don’t have kids—relax, Mom). If you’re a casual reader of “NBN,” you know some of that stuff isn’t exactly true (recall my dad’s Abu Ghraib-like tactics to spur reading when I was younger). Even if you found this page of the Press lying in a bathroom stall or crumpled on an LIRR platform and were reading this column for the first time, it’d be a safe bet there was something fishy in the facts above (a journalist in his early 20s who writes about the Internet is not making the kind of money needed to buy a house).

Last week was the April 1 issue, so what’s with the blatantly false stuff above? I found it—where else—on the Internet, at a site relatively new to the majority of the world (myself included) called Spokeo. Started in 2005, Spokeo combs social networking sites, phone books, online surveys and God only knows what other shady sources to create a comprehensive profile for anyone over the age of 18.

In theory, like so many things on the World Wide Web, that sounds wonderful. Take all the bits and pieces of me scattered throughout the Internet and put them all in one place. But in practice, like so many things on the World Wide Web, the result is disastrous.

In addition to having zero offspring, hating reading and being barely able to afford a hotel in Monopoly much less a home, I don’t drink wine, play basketball or football, live with three other people or get a kick out of home decorating. I think one time I Googled the phrase “mutual fund,” so let’s give Spokeo the benefit of the doubt with that one. Sure, there are some things the site got right: detailed, specific-to-me things such as I like music, own pets and care about healthy living. And I’m a male.

But maybe you’re in that bathroom stall and thinking, “Wow, this Brad Pareso male sounds pretty interesting. I want to know more about him.” You’re not the first person to think that, and on Spokeo you can obtain that additional info—by purchasing it. Want to know my credit score? It’s there. See some pictures and videos of me? Also there. My estimated income and wealth level? If you need a good laugh, that’s there too!

I’m not a fan of having my personal information a search bar away, but in a digital age that’s nearly impossible to prevent. Fine. But at least get my information correct. On a basic level it’s cause for a deluge of Facebook wall posts and Twitter @’s congratulating me on being a father, and that’s good for a few laughs. But on a much more serious level, it’s open season for stalkers, pedophiles and anyone with a sick obsession and a credit card.

Of course, all of this can be solved in two ways. First, by allowing people to omit themselves from Spokeo’s listings. This is possible, provided it’s the first thing you do after waking up. I tried to remove myself from the site at 9 a.m. this morning and was told there were too many requests today, and I should try back tomorrow. Or, there could be an option to edit the results, but because the site grabs all its data from other sources, that’s not in the cards.

Spokeo boasts its “innovative technology” has been the subject of “accolades” from a whole bunch of press outlets, but that is the most annoying part of the whole story. You want to brag about how amazing your information-gathering ability is? Do it, but go the extra step and let people edit the incorrect stuff. Otherwise you are nothing more than a Trojan horse.

“Whoa. You can’t be mad at us! It’s the Internet, man. All this information is out there. We’re just the messengers!” No, there is no website touting it’s the 60th most popular Google search and also claiming there is a Brad Pareso living in North Carolina with my dead grandmother in a house worth more than $1 million. That’s all you guys.

Is this problem compounded by our reliance on what search engines spit out as fact and gospel? Yes, but there are more than 300 million people and only one, and I’m a numbers kind of guy (a fact you can find by purchasing the full list of my interests).

Follow me on Twitter! |
Spokeo grabs those photos and videos from Facebook and the like, which I guess makes sense. But it also grabs stuff from Twitter. Why, you ask? Because that’s where people go for the truth—the same place Tila Tequila announces she’s carrying her brother’s kid!

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