man magnifying glass remove personal info

Have you ever Google’d your own name? You probably found old social media accounts as well as information about your physical whereabouts. When you own or manage a business, this is a good thing – except when the information is wrong. The information you find can be helpful, or dangerous, depending on your perspective. Now you’re probably wondering how to remove your personal info from the web.

Why is it There?

There are a variety of reasons why your phone number and address are online. In some cases you put it there, sometimes a mapping system supplied the information (such as Google Street View / Maps), and occasionally your data is public. The mining and sale of public data is a lucrative business model called data aggregation.

Data aggregation is the practice of compiling information from databases with the intent to prepare the combined datasets for processing. The origination of the data may be public records and/or criminal databases. Your property tax records, court filings, utility bills, voter records, social media site information, drivers license, birth records, and much more are up for sale. The processed data is packed into reports and sold to businesses and governments by data brokers. (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse)

Your Data For Sale

code on computer screen remove personal infoThe intentions of the buyers of your data vary. They may be interested in selling you products and they use that data to know more about your habits and find the best place to market to you. The intention may be risk mitigation – products such as identity verification and fraud detection. The last is called “people search” and it’s all about personal information on individuals. This is the category you have the most control over.

Is it Legal?

Yes. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the governing entity. Currently there are no federal laws that require data brokers to maintain privacy of consumer data unless they use that data for credit, employment, insurance, housing, or other similar purposes.  According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, “Consumers generally have no federal right to know what information data brokers have compiled about them for marketing purposes. No federal law provides consumers with the right to correct inaccuracies in the data or assumptions made by data brokers.”

In February 2019, the FTC created a new Technology Task Force to more closely monitor tech companies. This is a signal that the tide may be changing. The European Union has already made a big change in this area with legislation called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that went into play in May 2018 and there’s also the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) which started in January 2020.

Don’t Let it Scare You Too Much

scared remove personal infoYou’ll be shocked, scared, worried, and/or overwhelmed by what you find. In fact when I have my students do this exercise in class, there are usually several shrieks and I’ve had more than one person descend into a panic attack over what they found. It’s okay, we can fix almost everything.

One nasty trick I’ve seen in search engines are results that say “Has (Your Name) Been Arrested?” or something similarly scary. This trend comes and goes but if your name comes up this way, you’d naturally be curious/worried, and will follow the link. You’ll only be able to see a limited listing and, in order to see what other information they have, they’ll charge you. I suspect that we are the true target market of this scheme rather than strangers or those with nefarious intent (though that’s a real concern as well.)

Can You Remove Your Personal Info?

I can offer assistance in the people search category. This falls into reputation management, a topic I’ve been writing about since 2010 and was the subject of my first book. Way back in 2012, I wrote about removing Spokeo listings. That company is still around but the players continually change and you’ll likely find your personal data on multiple sites.

No matter what site you find your name and data on they all follow basic principles – to block you from taking it down. See below for instructions on how to correct, edit, or remove your personal info.

Can I Pay Someone To Do It For Me?

Technically, you can but their tactics are not always legal. Reputation management companies have been around a long time and you can hire them but they’re very expensive. In many cases you must be the one to request removal of your name (not a third party) and you’ll have to do this over and over until the privacy laws are changed. If you want to learn how to do it yourself, see below. Learn more about your legal options and other options for stubborn content.

Process & Instructions for Removal

  • Perform a vanity search (otherwise known as Googling yourself)
  • Record everything you find that you want to edit or remove. Save links, make notes.
  • remove personal info googleLet’s say you find your name listed with Yellow Pages. You could try to find instructions on their site but they’ve buried it because they don’t want you to find it.
  • Google or search “Yellow Pages” and “remove my listing” or “edit my information” or “claim my account.” Any version of this search will work. The search engine will do the hard work and find the page(s) or instructions for you. You may find multiple sets of instructions from the service itself and/or outside resources.
  • If you simply want to edit, you’ll need to claim the listing or location (example Google instructions.) The listing itself usually has this clearly available, lately you’ll find it through the “edit this listing” option, but you may have to search for it (see the previous step in this list.) Edit the info and its accuracy will be helpful for your business or organization.
  • If you are deleting, there will be a lot of hoops to jump through. Be methodical in your approach. They’re betting on you being impatient and giving up. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
  • Copy and paste the URL for your listing into your notes in addition to dates and actions you took. Double check a week or so later to make sure it’s been removed. You may have to follow-up or repeat the process.
  • Depending on how many sites your information is on, this will take time. Give yourself plenty of it.

You’re Done!

Not really. The first time you do this, it takes awhile. I recommend doing this at least every six months because data brokers continue to purchase information, old, new, correct, inaccurate – it doesn’t matter. It tends to be faster as you get comfortable with the practice. Line the task up with the change of your smoke detector batteries or January/July like I do. This is the cost of easy-to-access information, we have to take care of it. If you don’t like the way privacy laws are written in the U.S., feel free to write your representative to put pressure on them to increase user privacy.


12 replies
  1. Megan D Rutledge
    Megan D Rutledge says:

    HI Kerry,

    I am not remotely nor have I ever been accused of being a sex offender and I am listed with a mugshot (from a reckless driving arrest) on a website called sex offenders dot com (or of sorts) this is a giant “database” and I am unable to reach anyone to get it removed. It is absolutely ruining my career and life and has done significant damage already. I am begging for your assistance and thank you in advance. I really appreciate anything you can do to help and assist and will pay whatever necessary. I would like to sue contingency based if possible as well. I look forward and hope to hear from you soon!

    Kind regards,

    Megan Rutledge


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