Where to start when you want to remove name and other personal data from the Internet: Internet Scambusters #508
It's not easy if you want to remove name details and other information about yourself on the Internet.
But it can be done -- at least with some of the big organizations that collect your personal details and either publish them online or sell them to others.
In this week's issue we tell you exactly where to start on your quest with some of the biggest names in the privacy-busting business.
And now for the main feature...
How to Remove Name Details and Other Personal Info Online
Where do you start if you want to remove name details and other information about yourself from the Internet?
Don't think it's an issue?
Well, as we reported in our special report on cyberstalking last year, Doors Open Ever Wider to Cyberstalking, there are scores of organizations whose entire business is built on gathering personal information about you and either displaying it for free or, more often, selling it.
In fact, earlier this year, one of these firms was fined $800,000 by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for a whole series of alleged offenses about the way it used information it collected from social networking sites and then sold the information.
The FTC claimed that the data this firm sold included income, home values, marital status and ethnicity. It was sold to background screening services and recruiters.
Most of the information these organizations collect is already in the public domain and collecting it is perfectly legal, though what they do with it may not always be.
They know where to look and how to link different strands together to build a pretty comprehensive -- and valuable -- picture of you and your life.
Maybe you already know this and don't care or don't think you can do anything about this, but the fact is that your personal information jigsaw, when pieced together properly, can be used for all sorts of dubious purposes from spamming to identity theft.
Yet, as you might suspect, the process to remove name details is both complex and time consuming.
First, you have to discover all the organizations that hold information about you; then you have to approach each one, sometimes in writing, to ask them to remove your details.
Then you have to monitor them to check that they did what you asked.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that if they do it at all, they will only do exactly what you asked. So, if your name is Jane Doe, they might agree to remove your records from public access, but that won't include records that name you as Ms. Jane Doe, Jane A. Doe, or J.A. Doe.
You have to go through the same tedious process for each one. Often, too, you will be asked to provide identification to prove you are who you say you are, and for this reason, some of them will insist you send this by snail mail.
10 Opt-Out or Privacy Links
The good news is that you might be able to save yourself some time by subscribing to one of the automated services that offer to do all the hard work for you.
Of course, you have to pay -- anything from $5 a month upwards.
As an example, see the site Reputation.com.
Unfortunately, we are not in a position to recommend how reliable, effective or secure this or any other service is, since we haven't formally tested them.
If you want to go down the manual route, you need to check each site individually. As we said, there are scores of these and you can never be sure you've got them all.
But they include Spokeo, ZabaSearch, Pipl, MyLife, Yahoo, Google and PeopleFinder.
Some of these organizations rely on other data providers for their information, like WhitePages, Acxiom and Intelius.
You'll often find if you do a search on your own name that one or other of these outfits returns a limited amount of information but offers to give you more if you pay.
We don't have the space or the resources to list all the sites from which you might want to remove your name. But here are 10 of the major organizations, with links to their opt-out or relevant information page (tested at the end of July, 2012):
- My Life: Send email to email@example.com or phone 1-888-704-1900
- Pipl - People Search (invites you to join reputation.com after you complete!)
- Yahoo (uses Intelius but has its own opt-out)
- ZabaSearch (requires copy of ID card or driver's license to be faxed)
That makes 9, right?
Well, we wanted to save the tenth and perhaps the mos important to last -- Google.
Just how can you prevent Google from collecting and sharing information about you, or returning links to your personal data?
Well, we could probably write a whole book on that subject (if we had enough time and people), but fortunately Google themselves do provide quite a lot of helpful information -- if you know where to look.
Start by learning more about how to manage your online reputation.
Click on "Remove unwanted content and associated search results" for links to more information about this thorny subject.
But don't set your expectations too high because, as you'll discover, Google generally disavows responsibility for what others say about you on their websites and advises you to contact the sites' webmasters.
Here's more advice on keeping personal information out of Google.
There are some situations in which Google will take action, especially if there are legal issues. For this, you have to go through a question and answer process.
There are several organizations that claim to be able to prevent negative information about you appearing on the first couple of pages of a Google search.
Their fee? Anything from $1,000 to $40,000. And we can't tell you whether that'd be money down the drain but we suspect it could be, since Google is always changing the way it controls the search process.
We also suspect, in the broader scope of this issue, that, despite all your efforts, we are living in an age when personal information about you seems to have become public property.
In the end, there may not be a lot you can do about that without investing a huge amount of effort.
But one quick and easy thing you can do from the get-go is limit the personal information you post about yourself online -- in everything from social media networks to blog comments.
Realize that, whatever actions you take to remove name and other data about yourself, everything you post is capable of being collected, stored and linked up with other information to create your very own, but probably unwelcome, digital self-portrait. So be careful about what you post.
Time to close today, but we'll be back next week with another issue. See you then!