Spokeo on Snopes on Spokeo
Written byApril 11, 2011
I’m a nervous, sensitive soul: anxious in enclosed spaces, paralyzed by heights and spooked by thunderstorms, much of what goes on in the world terrifies me. I feel most comfortable in my room, reading poetry and listening to The Smiths. I suppose you could call me a "huge, pathetic wuss," but that would be mean, and, being a nervous, sensitive soul, would cause me to retreat to my room to cry, read poetry and listen to The Smiths.
In my defense, we do live in scary times, or at the very least strange, chaotic ones. The world is rapidly changing, and information is proliferating exponentially. There is a lot to know and understand, and most of us are scared by what we don’t know, or don’t understand. Someone sends us a link to God-knows-where, we take what we read at face value, and send it off to someone else with a trembling click of the mouse, and they do the same to all their friends (I’ve written about this before).
It can be surprisingly difficult to separate fact from fiction, but when you do want some clarification, Snopes is a fine place to start. The myth-busting database does admirable work fact-checking those scary urban legends, forwarded emails or viral rumors that seem to follow us everywhere we go. (Though I still hold that a pizza delivery man really did play the piano part on Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s hit "Takin’ Care of Business". I mean, come on, you can almost smell the the mozzarella during that bridge!)
As you are likely well aware, there’s been a good deal of fearmongering about our humble People Search site in the last few years. The buzz generated from last year’s rash of panicked email chain letters last spring attracted the attention of Snopes, who duly decided to investigate the claims. The main claim itself is a little vague and misleading: Your personal information may be viewable through the Spokeo website. Snopes answers in the affirmative, to which I say…wait–what is ‘personal information‘? Your Twitter profile? Your city and state? Your last name? Your shoe size? Your favorite cereal? If you are going to answer "yes" to a vague question, you should make sure to clarify what it is Spokeo actually does. Fortunately, the most recent version of the Snopes article does an adequete job explaining that we only aggregates publicly-accessible information through our name search, reverse email, reverse phone and username searches. Snopes also makes it clear that we allow anyone to opt-out from Spokeo’s public searches at anytime.
The big problem with the article, however, is that it fails to address some of the wilder claims made in the provided forwarded emails about Spokeo. For example, the claim that we have your credit score (we most surely do not). It’s unfortunate that Snopes does not overtly debunk these myths, but lets them stand unchallenged at the top of the page under their big shiny verdict of truthy Truth.
I guess the moral of the story is that while it’s important to fact-check, it’s also important to fact-check the fact-checkers. As Agent Mulder used to say: the truth is out there. At least I think he used to say that: I never watched that show. Too scary.