There’s a lot of private information on the internet. Your credit card companies, banks, grocery stores, discount clubs… basically everyone in the US is selling your data to 3rd party information aggregators, who in turn process it and sell it to other interested people.
Why should you be concerned? If people have your name, they learn about you. They can steal your identity. They can target you. All kinds of things, because there are bad people out there.
This is a list of things to do to remove your personal information (address, name, and phone number) from the internet.
1. Search for yourself.
If you’re lucky, you have a fairly common name. You won’t be too easy to find (which can be a problem if you want to be famous!). Although a common name and a specific address can be very easy to find.
If you’re not lucky, you have a very specific name, and you also tend to use your middle name when signing contracts or filling in forms. You are very easy to find.
2. Note which websites are selling your information.
There are a lot of big data aggregators out there. Some of the big ones that came up as I was helping my mother remove her information were:
- Pipl.com – they do not have an opt-out, but the also help you find who has your information.
- Spokeo.com – they have an opt-out here: http://www.spokeo.com/opt_out/new
- InstantCheckmate.com – opt-out here: https://www.instantcheckmate.com/optout/
- OneRep.com – they provide your information so that you might buy their opt-out service. Also opt-out here: https://onerep.com/opt-out
- WhitePages.com – they require you to sign up to opt-out: http://www.whitepages.com/me/suppressions
- YellowPages.com – no opt-out policy!
- BeenVerified.com – opt-out here: https://www.beenverified.com/f/optout/search
There are tons of these companies. It’s easy to aggregate data, but InstantCheckmate seems to be especially privacy-offending, as they offer maps of your address as well as linking to all your relatives.
These companies also change their privacy policies and opt-out links regularly. And they require you to specifically ask to remove single pages when multiple pages have your info. And they put up the information again as it becomes available. It’s their business, but they don’t make it easy to like them.
3. Opt-out if you can, obfuscate if you can not.
Remove your information using the links above. If you can’t remove information, try signing up for store point cards or services using fake names and fake addresses.
Remember that the data aggregation services can only buy your data because other people are selling it to them. You, yourself, might be putting private information on the internet by:
- signing up for store point cards
- entering a raffle or contest
- setting up a business
- filling out a census report
- filling out a survey
- not opting-out of credit card/bank information sales
4. Protect yourself.
Kotaku has a good guide on how to protect your private information. Basically:
- Don’t put sensitive stuff on the internet.
- Lock down your privacy on social media.
- Don’t use your real name (your full name) for unimportant stuff.
- Don’t get hacked (use strong passwords and two-factor authentication)
- Don’t be a dummy.
Note that if you remove information on yourself from the internet, it can be harder to find you for legitimate purposes. Celebrities may wish to hide their real names, but may also wish to promote themselves as well.
You also provide information with every credit-card signup and business document. It’s hard not to put information on the net, so you need to be vigilant about removing your information.
You can’t always protect yourself. But there are things you can do to make it harder for others to attack you.