When Wired magazine journalist Mat Honan documented the chilling experience of having his digital life ruined by hackers late this summer, he offered a few tips to hopefully protect this from happening to us. One of his tips included removing personal listings from sites like Spokeo and Whitepages.com. But this is not as easy as you think.
The reason for removing these pesky listings is that they contain data, in some cases a lot of data, about your personal life. This might include the names of your spouse, mother, father, children, and other relatives (who all have separate listings too). Your listing most likely includes your current address (Spokeo conveniently provides a full-color closeup picture of your home) and other places where you previously lived. All of this is valuable fodder for enterprising hackers who would be more than happy to make some educated guesses about passwords and other ways into private accounts. And it’s all freely available online to anyone searching your name.
This column documented the issues with Spokeo and other sites nearly 18 months ago and removed all of the columnist’s personal listings at the same time. A recent check last week showed they were all back. In fact, there were even more than before.
To Spokeo’s credit, they make it fairly easy to remove what’s there, but there is a limit to removing information tied to one verifiable email (unless you are a government official), so getting everything off requires a bit of work and multiple mailslots. Whitepages.com follows a similar process, but goes an extra bizarre step by requiring you to create an account on their site before you can remove your personal information.
Sadly, the devastating experience of Wired’s Mat Horan has been shared by many others and there is no move yet to require these personal directory sites to at least place their information behind a subscription-only firewall. Playing on the Internet today is now the digital equivalent of playing in the middle of the street.
In other news from stories previously covered in this column:
E-Cigarettes – The continued saga of e-cigarettes has been fascinating to watch. At a time when regular cigarettes have been taxed and regulated practically out of existence in many parts of the country, e-cigs are now becoming widely advertised on cable TV. One brand – Njoy King – is using the song and slogan, “Feels Like The First Time.” BluCigs is appealing to consumers with “Rise from the ashes.”
Since e-cigarettes are not classified as tobacco products, they are exempt from laws prohibiting advertisement. Next up for marketing campaigns: “Keep On Puffin”…..
A Very Expensive Post – Lots of athletes and celebrities have gotten into plenty of trouble by posting ill-advised messages on Facebook or Twitter. Now a technology company has dug themselves a deep hole that will likely cost them a lot of money.
Last week, Netflix disclosed that the SEC is weighing whether to take action against the firm for a message posted by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings on his public Facebook page. The posting, which had gone largely unnoticed by most, boasted about one billion hours of video watched by Netflix subscribers the past month. Oops!
If the SEC finds that Hastings’ little note was material to his business, and should have been sent to all investors, then a fine will be forthcoming. This could be the most expensive 43 words in Facebook’s history.