Shedding its image as a stalking tool, Spokeo dives deep into data to reconnect people

Carlin Sack

Despite a seven-year history pockmarked with an FTC settlement and frequent reputation battles, Spokeo has now come into its own as a Pasadena-loving company with a flair for the data science behind connecting people.

While mainly dedicating itself to piecing together people’s information supplied by third-party vendors, the search company’s 120-person team also conducts their own research and commissions organizations like Harris Interactive to dig into the ‘why?’ behind Spokeo.

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This question of why 20 million users visit Spokeo each month intrigued CEO and co-founder Ray Chen to dig deeper and release reports such as Spokeo's relationship report this September, for example. The report detailed 2,000 Americans’ search habits when in a relationship -- and found that 72 percent of adults search for information about their significant others! Another report previously conducted by Spokeo confirmed that 15 to 20 percent of Americans move every year, a startling discovery that sheds light on why people need Spokeo - to find new address or phone information.

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These reports reveal why over 1 million have paid for Spokeo services to date: Spokeo can satisfy people’s ever-present desire to connect with each other, Chen said. Since being founded by four Stanford graduates as an RSS reader in 2006, this aspiration to reconnect people has kept Spokeo moving forward even as the team fought off reputations that the search engine could be used to stalk prospective employees or generate consumer reports.

“We really want to be sure that we were helping the world in the right way,” Chen said.

Chen said he has heard many heartwarming stories of how Spokeo has helped people since then, allowing him to now fully realize the power of the technology. The stories come from organizations like Search Angels, whose volunteers use Spokeo for hours on end to reconnect birth mothers and adoptees, and also from personal users who found lost family members through Spokeo. Chen said one Spokeo user recently called their customer support team to thank them for reconnecting him with his father:

“He’s 29 today and, up until the point where he used Spokeo, he never contacted his father,” Chen said. “That was a very significant point for me and in our company history when we started understanding what people use Spokeo for and how we can help the world. I’m very happy to say that this year is the first year he had Thanksgiving with his father.”

To continue pursuing its mission of connecting people, Spokeo has been rapidly expanding its team on the both the customer care and product ends. Chen said that, just in 2013, Spokeo hired about 50, an impressive stat considering the company has not raised any outside funding aside from an angel round in 2006.

Spokeo’s array of services and their respective subscriptions prices (like a one-time caller ID check for a couple of dollars, for example) allowed the team of four founders to achieve “Ramen-profitability” by 2008 and earn market wages by 2009, Chen said.

Now in 2014, Chen said the Spokeo team will be working hard to help “people to find each other by linking together data better, working with better data and working on better search functionality. Users are trying to piece together information and new tools will make that possible in 2014.”



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