There was a time on the internet when no one would know if you were a dog, but those days are long gone. Finding in-depth personal information about someone online is now incredibly easy with data brokers, known as & # 39; people-finder & # 39; sites.
Your personal information is (probably) available
People finder sites are a true mine of information. They often have your address, telephone number, e-mail address and age. They even contain data from legal documents and other public or government records. Nowadays you can not only discover the breed of a blogging dog, but also the last time he had ringworm.
If you want to view this ugly underbelly of the web, just Google yourself or a family member. Unless you are a public figure who is often in the news, the top results are likely to be from Whitepages, Spokeo, BeenVerified and other similar sites.
People-seekers know a lot about you
These sites often give an alarming amount of information in advance but offer even more behind a payment wall. They sometimes hunt for the most basic human motivations. For example, BeenVerified teases that you need to check & # 39; your loved one & # 39 ;. If you click for more info, it takes artificial long to compile & # 39; results & # 39 ;. This is a psychological tool designed to make you invest in the process and more likely to spend some money when the paywall appears.
Some of these sites are even more conscientious than that! In 201
Selling to consumers is generally not even the primary business model for these websites – it is often only one side
"Direct selling to consumers does not scale," says Nader Henein, senior research director at Gartner. "Data brokers mainly sell to organizations that want to enrich their information about a large pool of individuals."
These sites extract information about you from social media media sites. However, most come from public records, such as legal documents and real estate transactions, or other online data, such as search history.
Many companies are more than willing to sell your information to these data brokers – even seemingly harmless sources, such as warranty and sweepstakes registrations, will do this. Unless a form specifically states that a company does not sell your personal information, you can assume that it will end up sooner or later on a site like Spokeo.
You can free yourself from this filthy affair and remove your personal information from these sites. However, depending on your approach, it can be difficult or expensive.
Despite an abundance of opposite opinions, reducing your footprint on social media is one thing that is unlikely to be very effective. That's because social media only reflects a small percentage of the data these companies collect about you.
"That's just the tip of the iceberg," Henein said.
Use the law to your advantage
Depending on where you live, maybe the law is on your side. Although there is no federal law similar to the National Do Not Call register in the US, a law came into force on January 1, 2020 that protects the 40 million people there.
The California Consumer Privacy Act allows people to, in part, request that their personal information be removed from websites. It is similar to the General Data Protection Regulation, a European law that came into force in 2018.
If you live in California, you can use sources on YourDigitalRights to remove requests for data to a large number of people search sites . The site also offers a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that submits a removal request when you visit an abusive website.
A non-profit organization manages YourDigitalRights. The service is free and does not collect any personal information.
Manually remove yourself from People-Finders
If you don't live in California, you can still sign out for many people-finders, it's just a more "manual" process. Although some sites have a link to delete personal information, the actual process can be complicated.
Spokeo is perhaps the simplest. Simply find your profile page on the site, go to speako.com/optout and then type (or paste) the link along with your email address so that you can confirm.
Others are not that simple. At Whitepages, paste the URL into your profile at whitepages.com/suppression_requests and type the reason why you want to opt out. You must then provide your telephone number – yes, you must provide a telephone number for your data broker. You will then be called by a robot, which will give you a verification code that you must type on the website to complete the process.
The ultimate outrage? 411.info actually charges a fee if you want your information to be deleted.
"It is illegal in Europe," said Henein. "But there is nothing to stop them from charging in the US for this."
In general, removing your info is not difficult; it is simply cumbersome and time-consuming, which is intentional. If you need help, Delete Me provides detailed instructions for a handful of the most common sites. Privacy Duck also maintains some video opt-out manuals.
Similarly, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has a fairly extensive database of more than 200 data brokers. It also indicates whether each site has a way to unsubscribe, although you will find that many listings such as & # 39; unclear & # 39; are highlighted. If you can unsubscribe, click on the company name on the left to view the detail page. usually contains a link to the site's opt-out form.
Logging out is an endless task
Manually removing yourself from sites for people searching can be a lot of work. And just because you log off today does not mean that you will be logged off forever. If you move, change your phone number or have an important life event documented somewhere, you may find that these sites add you again.
"When you ask for your information to be deleted, they are required to delete the information today, & said Henein." But there is nothing to say that from that moment on they cannot collect more information about how to proceed. "
Paying to Remove Yourself from People-Finders
One way to mitigate all this is to sign up for a service that deletes your personal information on your behalf. Unfortunately these are not cheap For example, Privacy Duck is ridiculously expensive: The basic service, which cleans up to two people from 91 data broker sites, costs $ 500 a year (the VIP service has 190 sites for $ 1,000 a year).
For comparison: DeleteMe is a bargain! This service removes you from 38 common sites for $ 129 a year, with other plans going from there.
Faced with these prices, manual removal can look attractive, or you may miss wonder if it is so important to delete your personal information.
The costs of privacy are eternal vigilance
Keep in mind that no solution you choose – do it yourself or invest in a removal service – you only remove results from a certain set of sites. If you want to keep your information from these sites forever, eternal vigilance is required.
Your personal information is likely to reappear on these sites when they receive new information about you. So you still have to clean up yourself if or when you stop paying for a subscription service.