Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

FTC Fines People Search Engine Spokeo Over Credit Reporting

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission said today that people-search provider Spokeo will pay $800,000 to settle charges that it marketed aggregated consumer profiles for the purposes of employment screening while violating federal credit-reporting law.

What’s odd about the settlement is that marketing information to employers isn’t really why many people have issues with Spokeo — it’s that the site merges so much detailed information about a person in one place and has historically been inaccurate and hard to opt out of. Spokeo used to give much of these aggregated profiles away for free but is now behind a pay wall.

The FTC also dinged Spokeo for astroturfing, saying its employees deceptively posted endorsements of the company on news sites and tech blogs.

On top of the $800,000 penalty, Spokeo had to agree not to violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act again, and to disclose future endorsements.

Spokeo President Harrison Tang wrote on the company blog today, “It has never been our intention to act as a consumer reporting agency. … We do not create our own content, we do not possess or have access to private financial information, and we do not offer consumer reports.”

He said that Spokeo has stepped up its efforts on privacy, customer service and opt-out functionality.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik