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How “People Search Engines” Are Bringing Millennials Together

This post was written with contributions by Ryan Currie of Spokeo.

Google is the most popular website in the United States, according to recent global data that indicates “search engines and social networks rule the online world.” Search dominates most online functions for Millennials, giving them the ability to aggregate the seemingly endless amounts of information online and provide a starting point for their journey down the rabbit hole of the internet. The user experience of most sites hinges on search algorithms, making it easier for young consumers to find the best Vietnamese restaurant in a ten mile radius, locate a flash sale at the last minute, or stalk their ex-best friends from grade school. As the long-standing backbone of Millennial internet usage, search is now being used to not only make life easier online, but offline as well—in part thanks to “people search engines.”
What exactly is a “people search engine,” anyway? Essentially, it’s a website that aggregates publicly available data (think White Pages listings and social media profiles) to provide information about a specific individual. Spokeo is perhaps the best-known people search engine on the market, although the industry as a whole has had a tumultuous few years. Concerns over privacy and safety have led to a massive overhaul of the people search functions of many sites. Facebook’s removal of privacy settings, opening its Graph Search to anyone with an account, combined with NSA scandals that continue to unfold have put tension between Millennials and the ability to trust their online privacy. However, the underlying purpose of people search engines is to help bring people together, reconnecting friends and relatives in real life.
Last month Google Maps posted a video with the story of Saroo, an Indian man that lost his way at age five to be separated from his family for over a quarter century. After years of searching for “a needle in a haystack,” Google Maps was the search engine that brought him home as he carefully combed through digital images near his point of departure in India until he found his hometown. Google Maps may have used Saroo’s story as a tissue-box marketing ploy, but the spot is also a testament to the power of search. Spokeo’s motto is “Search people. Reunite.” The site has interestingly seen a niche market come alive regarding adoption cases. Since Millennials are coming of age in a time where adoption isn’t an anomaly, they are using the web via digital public records and social media data to locate their birth parents. Likewise, parents who put their children up for adoption decades ago are using people search engines to reconnect with their biological children. The service features a bevy of “Search Angels” who assist adoptees and birth parents in reuniting with each other. While parents may find it easier to use outside sources to find their Millennial children, the site is a valuable tool for the adopted as well, since the amount of Millennials far eclipses the amount of adults on social networking sites. November is a month dedicated to adoption awareness, and this week Spokeo highlighted the story of a young woman named Lindsay who used the Search Angels service—which she discovered through Facebook—to find her birth mother. In a matter of weeks, Lindsay and her mother were reunited.
People search has been seeping into popular culture, gaining exposure from the popular MTV series Catfish, which attracts the ever-elusive 12-34-year-old set in droves. We let you know why Catfish matters to Millennials, and Spokeo’s services matter greatly to the Catfish investigation process—stars Max and Nev utilize its search tools to verify peoples’ profiles and tease out the lies that catfishers tell online. Recent posts from the Spokeo blog advise Millennials to “Search Before You Date,” something 72% of people do before or during the dating process. 58% claim to search past history before jumping into a relationship, and for 45% of people, searching gives them confidence to move forward in a relationship. Though Millennials aren’t a bunch of stalkers, this generation is privileged enough to have past information readily available about new people that they meet, and since dating, both on and offline, can be a harsh and confusing process, people search engines are another tool that they can use to safeguard against being catfished.
With so much information flooding the web every day, maximized people search offers something of supreme value to Millennials. The Yellow Pages might have little meaning to them, but with increased privacy measures in place as well as improved interfaces on many people search engines, Millennials are finding their way back to these data aggregators online and using them to facilitate newfound connections with people.

RYAN CURRIE, Product Manager
Ryan Currie is a product manager at Spokeo, a leader in people search and reverse phone lookup services. In addition to working on Spokeo, he also enjoys history, pop culture, and following the latest news in the movie industry.