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How exposed are you online? Websites cash in on your personal information

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Some say internet privacy has become a contradiction in terms and claim once you go online, you automatically reveal information about yourself that can’t remain hidden.

There is a national debate happening right now to determine how exposed you should be online, and it’s a debate that could change the internet significantly.

"We're giving away that information by posting it on Facebook, Twitter, even if it's in the description field you may type it not realizing we're giving away valuable information,” said internet security specialist Mark Pugh.

A website called Spokeo has become popular as a so-called "People search engine." It launched in 2006, and its founders designed it to keep up with social media posts from friends and family. Since then, it's grown into an information-gathering website that allows users to find out personal information about almost anyone.

Spokeo lists things like income, religion, the number of people in a user’s family and even how much your house is worth.

"There have been people who have been stalked and crimes committed from information gathered off Spokeo and from other people-search websites," said Pugh.

Spokeo is part of an ongoing lawsuit that ended up in the Supreme Court recently. A man sued the site, saying the information on Spokeo made him appear overqualified when he applied for jobs. The justices sent the suit back to the appeals court where it is still pending.

"So these sites are gathering this information off the public record from every Attorney General's office and from what the government has made available," said Pugh.

Spokeo may not always be accurate, but it is a prime example of the marketplace that’s growing for personal information online.

Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon collect their customers' personal information and sell it for targeted advertising to specific demographics, but concerns over internet privacy led the FCC to make a landmark ruling just last month. It says internet providers are now required to obtain explicit permission from customers before selling their browsing data.

That data includes internet history, mobile location, content of emails and financial data. It also requires providers to tell consumers what data they collect and why.

"I think there's a very large segment of the population that either doesn't care or is oblivious to it," said Pugh.

Some security experts say all the new rules won’t really matter as long as users are willing to give up so much information so willingly.

"We have control over information we provide, we just have to discuss what information we're willing to provide and at what point do we say we don't want to be part of this service anymore,” said Pugh.

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