Steve Klingaman

Steve Klingaman
Minneapolis, Minnesota,
January 01
Steve Klingaman is a nonprofit development consultant and nonfiction writer specializing in personal finance and public policy. His music reviews can be found at

Editor’s Pick
MAY 10, 2012 8:28AM

Is Facebook Evil? Yes!

Rate: 33 Flag



Facebook, it seems, has a privacy issue. Enfant-CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently instructed the investment banks handling its IPO to shut their faces when it comes to news leaks about the company.  Turns out juicy details leaked all over the web can make a corporate person feel compromised. After all, who wants one’s past indiscretions out there for all to see?

            The issue of online privacy and data aggregation has become a hot topic—finally—in the wake of the Facebook IPO. Max Schrems, 24, the Austrian law student who sued Facebook for its complete record of his personal data was recently astounded to receive 1,222 pages of information.   Some of it made sense—old Wall postings and photos—but some of it was material he had never even entered into Facebook.  His action spurred more than 40,000 requests for Facebook data in Europe.

            Online privacy is different in Europe, and online providers have responded with privacy policies that guarantee far more rights to users than can be found in Terms of Use agreements here in the U.S.  Surprised? I was. After all, we have the Constitution.  We have emanations of a right to privacy; we have guarantees of personal liberty that the Brits don’t.  But not online.

            The issue goes far beyond Mom’s admonition not to put drinking photos online.  And yes, more than 70 percent of human resource professionals have denied an applicant a job offer based on what they found online.  (Never mind that in the European Union prospective employers are barred from googling job applicants.) On this side of the pond we hear stories like that of Ashley Payne, the Georgia teacher who was fired for a Facebook photo of her—on vacation—with a drink in her hand.

            But have you thought about what lenders, credit agencies, insurance companies, and prospective employers, can do with reports of your aggregated online data, as purchased by third party aggregators?  Let’s say you posted Wall posts about a medical problem you or your child faced.  Let’s say it was congenital heart trouble—a no-fault diagnosis if there ever was one. Keyword searches can gather this type of data for sale to the insurance industry.  That information could result in you being dropped for health insurance coverage, life insurance policy refusal, or even the loss of a prospective job.  Don’t believe me? Spokeo is a third party aggregator that offers exactly this type of information to human resource offices.  I would bet they have information about you already on file, and some of it may have come from Facebook. And it’s very hard to delete.

            Facebook’s astounding net worth amounts to about $130 each for each of its 845 million subscribers.  Do you think they earn this by those pop-up ads that nobody clicks on?  Research (and investment bank leaks) show that the click rates on those Facebook ads are infinitesimal.  That leaves data aggregation revenue from third party advertisers and other users.

            And what kind of users are out there?  The IRS is using online profiles against taxpayers under investigation.  Let’s say your son or daughter posted some really great photos of a recent vacation to Rio for the whole family, just months after you filed your 1040 showing gargantuan business losses that included some hefty business expenses in Rio.  Yes, people do.  And the IRS finds them this way.

As a public company Facebook will be under pressure to maximize quarterly profits.  That means selling your personal junk for profit. That is, after all, the bargain you made when you signed up.  You receive the joys of free posting of all manner of personal information in exchange for Mark Zuckerberg & Co. to with it what they please.

In all probability, Facebook as it is presently monetized is a market distortion, a chimera.  It must begin to sell more of your stuff to justify its market capitalization.  And while the more laissez-faire readers in the audience may hold that users can always just quit—“Nobody is forcing you to put your junk online.”—I hold with the Europeans that users should be able to post and retain an appropriate level of privacy.  This can happen if companies are forced to accept some basic rules and play by them.  If Facebook is evil, it is probably evil more in its potential for harm than actual harm-to-date.  But between Facebook and Google, and other players with less in the way of marquee names, the ground is shifting under our feet.  This shift represents a substantial—and real—loss of privacy, and no one from the corporate world is letting on that there is anything, well, weird, about this.

Google Too? (Yes!)

Google sent notice of a change in privacy practices a few months ago.  An Op-Ed by Lori Andrews in the February 5 New York Times, “Facebook Is Using You,” points out that you may want to consider not using Google to search terms like, “diabetes” or “pregnancy” in the future.  Yes, I know, their slogan was “Do no evil.”  But that was then, this is money.  And don’t even get me started on how the data in your gmail account will be monetized.

            What we need to do, for Facebook, for Google, for Spokeo, is wake up and smell the surveillance.  We need to demand European-style protection policies, such as the right to scrub any and all data we choose from whatever providers we choose.  Such a law was proposed last month by the European Commission.  According to Somini Sengupta, in “Should Personal Data Be Personal?” another February 5 New York Times Op-Ed piece, quoting Simon Davies, the director of the English NGO Privacy International, “Europe has come to the conclusion that none of the companies can be trusted.”

We need to adopt the call initiated by Lori Andrews, the author of “Facebook is Using You,”  that we be given the option to register for a national Do Not Track status, modeled on the Do Not Call lists of yesterday.  Facebook can keep my dirt, Google, too.  But they can’t sell it in any form that allows individual identity tracking.  And they can’t steal my face.

So go ahead, post your party photos. Very soon, with the help of facial recognition algorithms, you won’t even have to tag them.  And the fact that you are standing in the background of a shot, a sheet and a half to the wind, holding a Bud Lite Platinum, and a friend of a friend will post that memento, and in a few months' time you may be receiving communications from parties who are dropping you, outing you, leaving you, or firing you.  It’s a sharing thing.

In the meantime, you really should pay attention to all those horrid little privacy settings, the ones that are designed to give you a headache the moment you think about them.  And don’t get me started on all those Facebook-related apps tracking you

UPDATE: May 10, 2012 2:00 p.m. CDT

I just received an email from Vanessa, Director of Public Relations at Spokeo who stated:

I read your piece about Facebook and need to let you know that Spokeo does not provide information to Recruiters. Please note that it is specifically in our terms of use that using Spokeo for this purpose is prohibited.

Please let me know if you can update your article. I understand that Lorri Andrews also reported this incorrect information and we have been working very hard to make sure and have this corrected.

I did indeed harvest the data in question from Lori (not Lorri) Andrews’ piece and have no additional corroboration of it, except, in part, my own eyes.  Ms. Andrews wrote:

 A company called Spokeo gathers online data for employers, the public and anyone else who wants it. The company even posts ads urging “HR Recruiters — Click Here Now!” and asking women to submit their boyfriends’ e-mail addresses for an analysis of their online photos and activities to learn ‘Is He Cheating on You?’”

By the way, here are Lori Andrews bona fides, “Lori Andrews is a law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law and the author of ‘I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy.’”  I have heard her speak on the Bob Edwards Show.  I know of no New York Times retraction for this statement and recall seeing the HR Recruiters ad myself.  I will print a copy of the New York Times retraction as soon as I  read it.  In the meantime, Vanessa is welcome to comment here, now that she is a member of Open Salon.

This is not the first time I have written about Spokeo.  In an article for Wise Bread I wrote back in 2010:

I had heard that Spokeo was a particularly impressive site, so I went there first. The personal data is indeed impressive; we'll get to that in a minute. Another button caught my eye, right off. It read: "Control Your Identity — Take Control Now." Upon clicking, I was taken to a page that read, "Monitor and control your public information with IdentityForce™ protection."

That's right. The same site that was causing me all this angst was also selling the solution — a solution just like Reputation Defender [now]! I was immediately transported back to Econ 101. The way to riches in America is to create a perceived problem and solve it. Like yellow teeth and Pepsodent. Or wrinkled brows and Botox. But Spokeo has taken this one step further. They have created an actual problem and the simultaneous solution. This is like a spammer selling a no-spam solution.

So, Spokeo, I hope we can agree to disagree about the nature of your business while we wait for that retraction.

Here’s what Spokeo had on me back in 2010:

They had my address, my birth date, the names and ages of my kids, my home phone, my wife's name, photos, a photo of my house, a flattering assessment of my real estate worth, assorted photos, and much, much, more, as they say in the biz.

But, in their favor, when I engaged in a three-day process to have my data removed, it was!  Thanks, Spokeo! 


 * * *


Correction:  It was actually a three-step, one-day process to have my data removed. 

Picture 2
 Screeenshot from a link
 provided by author Lori Andrews 




Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
You nailed this with...wake up and smell the surveillance.
People don't realize how much information is collected by websites like Facebook and Google. I stopped using Google, when I noticed that the advertising was extremely personally directed. When all the ads I get, suddenly are directed towards lifestyle choices, and medical needs.
Wow, very informative post! I'm aware that FB and other similar tech companies collect relevant data about its users, but not to the extent that you describe here. Wasn’t Germany that forbade Google from collecting images for StreetView?

I agree with what you propose. Since we live in the US, libertarians will fight tooth and nail against because it involves the big bad government.
I agree completely. Furthermore, the astronomical "valuation" of a company that creates nothing but a list of people's names, contact information and desires for advertisers to exploit is an indictment of capitalism. That people like Zuckerberg and Trump are viewed as successes -- and god forbid, role models -- is an indictment of our society as well.
Poor Facebook just can't catch a break these days: The lead article in the May issue of Atlantic Magazine is called, "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?" The article sidesteps the privacy issue, emphasizing what the writer feels are the far more serious concerns over how Fb reinforces social isolation.

Atlantic is on a roll, by the way. Last year (or maybe it was in 2010) they published a lead article called"Is Google Making Us Stupid?"
Steve, thanks for this very informative look at Facebook! It is unfortunate how a site that brings people together can possess such a negative and invasive side to it.
Good story! I touched on the privacy issue a bit in my latest blog, "The Age of Social Media." Privacy issues aside, the bad habits that can form from using Facebook are relevant too--spending too much time online, development of a narcissistic personality disorder perhaps... I've enjoyed catching up with many people from my past, but I recognize the evil tendencies that FB has.
George Orwell was a visionary.
Seems like "1984" came a few years late...but still it creeped up on us while we were "googling" and "facebooking".
Really scary stuff. I am one of those parents who admonishes his children to be very careful what they put up. R
Gerald, That's a well-founded concern. As Time Magazine put it last week, "A 10-minute review of a Facebook profile can give a hiring manager clues about your personality type and insights as to how you’ll fit into the company’s work (or not) and succeed on the job (or not). "
When it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is to land that first job out of college, it is just too easy to be rejected on issues of "fit." Far too many twentysomethings post lifestyle material that while it is in no way inappropriate, reveals too much about them being the free spirits they really are. And we love them for it. HR managers, on the other hand, maybe not so much. Maybe they'd prefer someone a tad more...corporate. Of course part of the solution is to make those FB pages for friends' eyes only.
It's like the sequel to "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and then some.
Need to go check my "privacy settings" again. Bottom line: No such thing is "online privacy!"
Chills down my spine. Thank you for this. You are exactly right. We need to wake up to the implications of blithely forking over the 'story of our lives.'
I am an advocate for online privacy but I do not feel Facebook is evil, they are not doing near what others far worse are doing, others that get no press.
Thank you for this informative and very well-written piece. R
And we all thought Big Brother would be the government. (Well, they're pretty good at it in a lot of ways too, but I think Facebook has them beat.)

It's funny, I know some people who were all paranoid about filling out their census forms, and yet they post detail after detail about their personal lives on Facebook.

Any suggestions as what's a good search to use that doesn't collect data like Google does?
Jeanette, No I do not. Use the computer at the library if you want to research diabetes, heart disease or cancer. And get nervous when you start getting the addiction treatment pop-ups! The Google Chrome browser will finally add a do not track button, but the search engine offers no relief.

Then there's this interesting tidbit from the UK's Daily Mail:

"Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, has unveiled a new add-on for the popular web browser that gives web users an instant view of which companies are 'watching' them as they browse.

The move comes the same week that Google pushed ahead with its controversial new privacy policy, built to provide even more data for Google's $28 billion advertising business - despite concerns that the massive harvesting of private data might be illegal in many countries."
Fortunately, I make no waves, have no strong opinions that go against the tide or any social proclivities that might make having access to my information a real bugaboo for me.

Fucking Capitalist Fascists stealing all my Infermatshunz! Hey, you send those rich bastids packing and if they complain, tell them in your best Donny Trump voice, "You're FIRED!" And don't get me started on the barely noticeable financial divide between the Two Parties in this country. Picking one of them merely means you're choosing which companies out there get to ride the tide of the political pork barrel for the next 2, 4 or 6 years -- better yet, maybe for decades if they can squeak out a win in the Ultra-Conservative Supreme Court. Look what they did for the wealthy and corporate elite with the Citizen's United Ruling.

Man, it gets me so goddamned depressed I feel like taking my clothes off, jumping in a tub of ketchup, screaming, "I'm a French Fry! I'm a French Fry!" And when the ecstasy of tomato paste and vinegar wears off, I'll just load up a big bowl of reefer and smoke myself stupid.

So it really is a good thing that whatever information they have on me isn't worth spit.


I mean, Right?

[sound of waterpipe being used]

Cough cough cough.


Fascinating...I've just been contacted by Vanessa, Director of Public Relations at Spokeo, one of the protagonists mentioned briefly in my article above. She asked me to correct the record, so I did, to the best of my ability. Check out "Update," above.
Whoa. You never know who's reading, do you?
Spokeo brings to mind the old (and probly ongoing) urban protection rackets whereby the hoods show up at your business and suggest that you won't get your windows broken or have an unexplained fire at your place if you pay a protection fee. Uh huh. Sure, Guido, sign me up.
The first rule of Facebook is do not post anything on Facebook you do not want the rest of the world to know. There is no such thing as privacy and the internet.
Not as evil as Topix

The pay Trolls to harvest personal information
M Todd, while that seems to be true, is that the way it has to be? And we're not just talking about Facebook here. Why should searches you do on Google be stored and potentially used against you? I'm not buying this , "Well, what do you expect?" argument.
Thanks for providing Spokeo the chance to comment Steve. We appreciate the time you took to find good sources. Lori Andrews in her article actually referenced a previous version of Spokeo from before February 2010, very different from what you see today. Since the modern version of Spokeo launched in February 2010, we have been clear that our services are not to be used for any purposes of determining eligibility for employment, credit, insurance, housing or any other purpose covered under FCRA.

We began as a social network aggregator in 2006 and since then, Spokeo has grown its technologies exponentially now allowing consumers all over America to RECONNECT with lost relatives and friends, LEARN about famous people who are relevant and have shaped history and DISCOVER their own online footprint or discover online users who may be scamming small online businesses. We are proud to hear from our many users who have used our service to find lost family members and old military buddies or save themselves from an online scam.

If you read our terms of use located at you'll find article 2:d:iv which states, "You may not use or any information acquired from to evaluate a consumer’s eligibility for credit or insurance to be used primarily for personal, family, or household purposes, to evaluate a person’s eligibility for employment purposes, to evaluate a person’s eligibility for a government license or benefit, to evaluate a person for renting a dwelling property, or for any other purpose specified in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. § 1681b);"

In addition, at the bottom of every Spokeo profile, you'll find the following... "None of the information offered by Spokeo is to be considered for purposes of determining any entity or person's eligibility for credit, insurance, employment, housing, or for any other purposes covered under the FCRA."

-Vanessa Flores
Director of Public Relations, Spokeo
NOOOOOOOOO! I believe it. You should see the ads I'm getting now after snarky remarks about Justin Bieber and the American Girl store. Thank you for another fine post.
Thanks for the heads up. Way up.
Vanessa, You are most welcome. I appreciate the highly professional nature of your response. You raise some excellent points. Spokeo,we learn, has changed. Laws such are the Fair Credit Reporting Act specifically prohibit the misuse of personal data and Spokeo's Terms of Use reference these prohibitions. The data you collect is no longer marketed to HR professionals, as was alleged by Ms. Andrews.

Crazy as it may seem, I remain concerned about misuse of data--corporate misuse of data--despite legal prohibitions, either through the use of arm's length third parties, elegant workarounds, legal contortions or, amazingly, even straight-out lawbreaking.

As for my personal information that the "reformed," if I may use that term, Spokeo was selling as of June 2010, it included, as I stated in my update, the names and ages of my kids. It included a photo of my home. I, personally, would prefer it if your business model, which may been reformed again since June 2010, would leave the kids out of it. I would prefer it if my home were left out of it. (Thanks Google!)

I have seen photos of street views of a home together with the address of one high profile editorial leader at on display at Spokeo. Here's how I wrote about it in 2010:

"It took me 15 seconds to locate her on Spokeo, and in a few more seconds I had her home address and phone number, a photo of her street, her husband's name, and the promise that for $2.95 I could get more info on her kids and who knows what else. And this is a person who regularly appears on television taking on controversial topics."

You see where I'm headed here? I don't think we need to dwell on it. We have had a productive discussion, one where each side has had the opportunity to weigh in without harassment. And I have invited Lori Andrews to comment as well. I wish you the best. And I hope Spokeo hasn't reassembled its file on me, especially the information about my kids. But to be honest, if I hadn't written an article about it, I never would have attempted to scrub my online data. It's just too much of a hassle.
And in the interest of full disclosure, I have a correction to make. It was not a three-day process to remove my data from Spokeo, it was a three-step process that took one working day. Here is how I described it at the time: "At Spokeo, it was a three-step online procedure. I went to the Spokeo site the following working day and I was gone!" But, also in the interests of full disclosure, the odds that I am now back up there are pretty great, that's just how it works unless you pay a vendor like IdentityForce™ to keep at it on your behalf.
The presumption that you still exclusively own the information that you post on the Internet is pretty naive. Private companies and investors have put unfathomable sums into building this network. Did they have Mother Teresa-like motives, or were they more like the 19th century railroad barons??? Let me think....

It did take them a few years at first to figure out how to harvest profits, the main mode for which now is to sell information that users like us post for free, to companies who place value on having this information nicely sorted, filtered, and ready to use to sell you stuff.

It's not too late to understand how and why the Internet gives you soo much utility for almost nothing. There's no such thing as a free lunch.
Ordinary Joe, Yes, but.

I never disclosed my birthday anywhere on the Internet. Ever. Spokeo harvested it from some public record somewhere and aggregated it with other stuff that I never put online. Not my address. Not my kids' info. Not the photo of my house. And yes, much psychographic information about me is available from Open Salon, Google, and Facebook, not to mention my own website, but it took the profession of data harvesting to tie it all up in a neat package with complete identifying information attached.
Steve - you mean you're NOT a New Year's baby?
Thanks for that warning, that public records are exactly that......
I know...pretty clever, eh?
Hit the nail on the head with this one, Steve!

Regarding "safe" search engines -- have you ever heard of/tried Just curious if it was for real.
Steve, check your Spokeo listing again. I have deleted my info there three times, and it keeps returning, like whack a mole, within a month.

And totally creepy how they found you here and this post! Ms. Flores, some of us would prefer the choice of NOT being found by "lost family members and old military buddies". Let the individual decide.

This is why I won't join Facebook, use google, or Twitter. If I could, I would have a zero online presence.
You can't change the future. Companies collect data about customers, they are not evil, they just want to sell you something. Enjoy the new offers and live your life
Amy, No, I haven't heard of it. I'll check it out.

Greenheron, I'm sure you are correct. But a month? That's depressing.
Thanks for this post Steve and hats off for attracting such a wide audience. That bit about offering users identity protection reminds me of "Nice ..... you have there; shame if something were to happen to it."

I've also wondered about the ostensible value of FB. In the past year of two I had it pegged around $100 per user so we're in the same ballpark. But that $100 or $130 ought to equal the EXTRA discounted future PROFITS that vendors can make off me simply by knowing what I and other have put out there. Really?
Having just read the comments, I noticed Spokeo's statements "You may not use or any information acquired from to evaluate a consumer’s eligibility for credit or insurance to be used primarily for personal, family, or household purposes, to evaluate a person’s eligibility for employment purposes, to evaluate a person’s eligibility for a government license or benefit, to evaluate a person for renting a dwelling property, or for any other purpose specified in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. § 1681b);"

In addition, at the bottom of every Spokeo profile, you'll find the following... "None of the information offered by Spokeo is to be considered for purposes of determining any entity or person's eligibility for credit, insurance, employment, housing, or for any other purposes covered under the FCRA."

I wonder if there's any enforcement to make sure the info isn't being used for such purposes.
Either it means there is an implied contract between user and Spokeo, or their legals did a good job of disguising the absence of an enforceable contract. Speaking of that, just imagine how many lawyers and legal scholars Facebook could afford to hire.... Expect to see privacy laws rewritten.
Jeanette, Not that I think it is ok, only coming from the reality that the internet was created as this means of exchanging ideas, thoughts and information by the powerful. Knowledge is power and to think those with vast resources of wealth and power would not tap (and control) into this knowledge does not surprise me. The upside is information that was once controlled and edited by a few is (for now) able to move freely between vast oceans of people. You can expect less and less freedom and more and more control as time goes on.
It does suck time out of one's day. I resisted for a long time, now I have it on my Favorites.
What ordinary joe said.

And it is a real bitch making a single cent on line.

Salon has lost money from day 1 and is still a complete disaster as a business.

The only business models that get large scale tractions are those that offer their services for 'free'.

What that means is that they need to make their money somehow, and that somehow is all over the place.

People tend to be willing to sell their privacy and attention for low sums. How many people carry those supermarket cards for the discounts at the register? If so, aggregators already know every calorie your family consumes.

'Free' television involves selling your time in little chunks for 'free' entertainment.

Evil? If thats the rhetoric it takes for people to examine their experience with some rigor and attention to detail -- sure.
Hi! Facebook will want to make all their investors very happy.I can see information being sold.They will monitor all your posts and fine tune your posts with ads.

Brigitte Grisanti
I received an encouraging email from Lori Andrews, attorney and author of “I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy” this morning. She shared a link for the Spokeo “Is he cheating on you?” ad, now visible at the foot of my post. She also pointed that 37 percent of companies search employees’ online footprints according to a recent study.

She also mentioned a study that revealed that 75 percent of companies have their HR departments check the kind of online reputation summaries that are at issue here before making job offers. According to the Abstract the research “examines the expanding role of online reputation in both professional and personal lives. It studies how recruiters and HR professionals use online reputational information in their candidate review processes, and how consumers feel about this use of their information. It investigates the steps consumers take to monitor and protect their online reputation.”

Ms. Andrews points out that it is hardly necessary to advertise to HR departments any longer, with online monitoring practices gaining increasing acceptance in the business sector.
Nick, I'm merely adhering to the honored tradition of the Atlantic Monthly with its "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" headline. Eyeballs, buddy, eyeballs.
RW, That's an eye-opener.
Sorry if you are a heavy wanting in with their recent IPO, but the
F B phenomena may have reached critical crass ... I could see the day when this Titanic's deck chairs will be equipped with life jackets and USB ports ... I mean, I am a little tired of 'Kitty Kute' viewing my profile, now telling me that we need to 'have some fun ... ', particularly when I do not have one on F B.
Thanks, Marky for the respect of our privacy.
I think it is better not ever give correct information in the Net about your birthday, pictures about you and so on.

Some corporations collecting information are just bad, some are really dangerous.

There are already many cases robbers have entered through the Net private people's bank accounts stealing money. The robers collected the information using the Net and viruses.

I think that a good way to fight against facebook is to publish this kind of articles there on your wall of your facebook account :=).
I posted ths article on my wall in FB.
I have as well stopped using Google search engine already weeks ago.
I have made "Spokeo PR" one of my favorites on Open Salon. I plan on asking her to help me reconnect with dead friends and relatives, and discover my inner internet footprint.
Okay, and is Spokeo the one and only group we should require to dump our info?
Where else should I go?
Great article!
Poor Woman, No, unfortunately there are a host of them. Follow the Wise Bread link near the end of the post and you will find out how to delete data from about six of them.