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
The 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.
Don’t Let it Scare You Too Much
You’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 (thought 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. Here are instructions on how to correct, edit, or remove your personal info:
- Perform a vanity search (otherwise known as Googling yourself)
- Record everything you find that you want to edit or remove. Save links, make notes,.
- Let’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 last step.) Edit the info and its accuracy is 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.
- Write down the site, your listing, dates, and actions you took. Double check a week or so later to make sure it’s been removed.
- Depending on how many sites your information is on, this will take time. Give yourself plenty of it.
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.