Did you know that anyone can search your name and quickly find out name, address, past addresses, relatives (names of family members), email addresses, and perhaps even your job history and whether or not you’ve gone to jail?
It’s true. There are over a 100 different sites that sell access to organized, collected, historical information about you, your life, and your family. Information that can be embarrassing, can put you at risk for harassment or physical harm, or just be more widely available than you might wish.
These companies are data brokers, and they go by names like WhitePages, PeopleFinder, BackgroundCheck, and others. They exist solely to market your personal details.
These are slightly different than commercial data brokers like Axiom who compile information on you and sell it to marketers and financial companies. We’ll talk about them in a future article.
While it might seem like collecting and selling your data would be illegal, it isn’t. This is all public information and these companies are just adding a layer of efficiency (and cost) to something that was already theoretically possible. The good news is that, by law, these firms have to have an opt-out option. The bad news is the law apparently does not require them to make this opt-out easy.
This means every one of these companies has their own opt-out process that can be hidden, complicated and take several steps online and offline. It can take 15-60 minutes for each site, and it often takes that long to figure out where to even start. Repeating this process for dozens of sites is essentially impossible, unless you have a lot of time on your hands. To make matters worse, your data often re-appears after a few months, so you would have to be very vigilant to keep checking whether you’re back in the database and willing to start the whole process over again. Again, this process of opting out, checking and re-opting out needs to be done on every different site.
A better solution is to use an automated service that will log into each site, submit your data removal request, monitor the removal, and then regularly check back and repeat the process if your data re-appears. We like a company called BrandYourself for this kind of (personally identifiable information) PII Data Removal. For a complete overview of BrandYourself, check out our article here.
Here’s how their tool works.
Using BrandYourself’s Protect Private Info tool
If you haven’t signed up for a BrandYourself account, we recommend it – signing up is free and gives you access to a free privacy scan (among other benefits) that gives you details on how much of your data is out there and how much false information might be tied to you.
Once you have an account created, you’ll have a dashboard available on the left side of the page whenever you log into BrandYourself. To see how many data brokers have profiles on you, click on the ‘Protect Your Private Info’ section.
You’ll then be asked to type in your full name and age. Once you do, BrandYourself scans the internet and gives you a list of websites that has your information including your name, current and past addresses, relatives, phone numbers, and site-specific details like criminal history, propensity to travel, and property records, among many others.
BrandYourself then gives you an option to remove all this exposed information. Here’s when you’ll have to pay for additional services.
You have three options when it comes to removing this information from the many databases and data brokers. You can opt for the monthly plan BrandYourself offers, which costs $19.99, you can opt for the yearly plan, which costs $119.99, significantly less than the monthly plan if you take in the 12 payments into accounts, or you can choose not to use BrandYourself’s automated service and go through the opt-out process yourself.
If you opt for the last option, it’s still extremely helpful to use BrandYourself to expose all the different companies that have your information. Otherwise, it would be a pain to find each one and you wouldn’t know which companies you’re missing as many of these are likely sites you’ve never heard of before.
To get a sense of what the opt-out process for one of these sites looks like, check out BrandYourself’s blog post here that details their service and gives you a step-by-step process on how to remove your data and opt out of Whitepages.com. As you’ll see, it’s not easy, and the post itself gives you some helpful shortcuts.
Our recommendation? If you can swing it, opt for the yearly plan. We understand that it’s a hefty amount but the fact that you’re covered for a year is significant here. Many data brokers don’t always honor opt-out processes and will add your profile back in. Having year-round coverage ensures your data doesn’t come back months after you’ve opted out and stopped thinking about it.
While you can take the free route and manually opt out, it’s a time-consuming process and these websites don’t make it easy. Some hide the opt-out link so you have to do some digging before getting to it and there’s a chance you may be opting out the wrong person, a mistake that’s likely to occur if you have a common name.
Why Database Removal is Important
Nothing these data brokers are doing is illegal so they have every incentive to take your information and sell it to any individual or company willing to buy it. To learn more about data brokers and online directories, check out our overview here.
If you value your privacy even slightly, this is one of the first actions you should consider taking because the information is so detailed. If you’re concerned about being stalked or harassed, then this is a big step for reducing that risk – otherwise, you’re letting a few bucks stand in the way between a dangerous individual and your home address (these sites usually charge less than $10 for full access to a profile).
Database removal can come at a cost, whether it’s time or money. How it weighs on your privacy is up to you.