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This Lockdown DOES Feel Different

Spokeo - how to find out too much information about your network

A while ago I posted (on my personal blog) about FriendFeed and how it is an excellent service for those wanting to supply one feed that incorporates all their online identities, i.e., one feed that tells people when you've uploaded a Flickr photo AND you've shared a Google Reader item AND posted a blog entry (for instance - mine is here).

SpokeoThis posting let to an email from Harrison Tang over at Spokeo (http://www.spokeo.com) who asked if I'd like to take a look at their latest project ... and so I did.

To quote Harrison:
Spokeo is not about aggregating identities; rather, it's a reader for all your friends' publicly shared activities online. Our system literally goes across the Web to find and track your friends' content across 30+ websites out there.

I signed up (please, please can online services support OpenID!), imported my GMail accounts* and let the system do it's thing. And boy did it do it's thing ... apart from the obvious online info it found such as Mr X has published a blog posting, Ms Y is on LinkedIn and Mrs Z is Twittering about life in Wellington the highlight was Spokeo showing of Amazon Wishlists.

What I learned about some people via the book titles they are hoping to buy was ... an eye opener.

The Amazon Wishlists were something I had completely forgotten about when I talked about protecting your online persona. Of course, the wishlists are public, how else will others see what books to buy you, but I would imagine that, like myself, a lot of people think that they are unfindable unless they are actively sent to someone.

The wishlist experience has lead me to two fundamental thoughts:

1: What you do tells more than what you say
The information that you put up about yourself (email, age, where you live ...) is not half as interesting as the behaviour/activity that is recorded about you. There is more to learn about the 'real you' by the books you buy than the static email address you give.

2: Incomprehensible Wed addresses is not a security measure
This is probably obvious to most of my readers who live their life online. It wasn't obvious to a couple of people that I know using the Amazon Wishlist page, as I have recently confirmed by asking them. They were of the impression that a URL such as http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/2KUFSOSO3616J (my Amazon book wishlist) was fairly safe because, "Who on earth is going to accidentally type that in!?"

With services such as Spokeo quit legitimately trawling all of these open services (API's are a wonderful thing) that thinking will very quickly be the downfall of many a normal user.


And back to the service, Spokeo - what did I think of it?
For what it does I can't fault it. It searches in all of the obvious places on the Web and a lot of the hidden away and not so obvious places (what I call going 'deep').
Unfortunately to my mind the interface isn't the most intuitive and I do think the developers have fallen into a trap of trying to be different for difference sake. of course it could be the start of a new way in interface design but I suspect not.

I do recommend it however, if only to find out what the deep web and people like me know about you!

And thanks to Harrison for dropping me the email, most appreciated.

* After my spamming experience I was very relieved to see that Spokeo explicitly stated that they would not be emailing anyone!

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