We all have enormous amounts of personal information on the Internet. From names and addresses, dates of birth, places of employment, marital status and the names of children, to even more sensitive data, big parts of our lives are open books – whether we like it or not.
A lot of that information is willingly placed there. Just think of what you’ve put on Facebook and LinkedIn, and job sites like Monster. There’s even more personal information from public records.
Hundreds of data aggregate websites capitalize on all this. Known collectively as People Search or People Finder sites, they crawl every corner of the Internet for information, index it, and make it available to site visitors, usually for a price.
Marketers use People Search sites to bring you advertising. Others use them to search for long-lost friends or relatives, or check up on a babysitter or someone else they need to trust. Employers often use them as they check the backgrounds of potential hires.
Many believe these sites invade their privacy. We’ll show you what you can do about it.
The most popular people search sites include Intelius, PeopleSmart, and WhitePages. There are many others, some just as popular. But we’ll focus on these three.
“Learning the truth about the history of your family and friends can be shocking,” one of these sites warns. “Please be cautious when using this tool.”
Indeed. We recruited a volunteer test subject who allowed us to use his identity, to see what kind of dirt we might find. As it turns out, he has lived a nearly blameless life. We found nothing damaging at all. Over the years, we discovered, he has had fixed addresses from the Midwest to the West Coast. He went to a small liberal arts college, and has worked in IT and in Communications. He is married and has a couple of kids. He just had a birthday. Beyond that: nada.
We got this information free of charge. We may have found something more incriminating, if we’d been willing to pay for it. Each site we examined presented additional levels of service, at prices ranging from about a dollar to around forty bucks. With these options, we could learn about divorces, lawsuits, liens, bankruptcies, judgments, criminal records – and who knows what else?
Is this ethical? Bland as our results were, our test subject thought that making this information available without his knowledge amounted to an invasion of privacy. He asked if anything could be done about it.
Reduce Your Exposure
Unfortunately, there is no magic fix; no single action you can take to prevent your personal information from being collected by, and presented on, data aggregate sites. Painstaking though it may be, you’ll need to visit each site, one by one, and follow each one’s steps for opting out.
First, however, there are some general rules to reduce your exposure.
- Limit the data you put on social media profiles
There’s no rule that says you have to fill out the entire profile on any social media site.
- Limit privacy settings
Facebook, for example, asks, “Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile?” Select no.
- Get rid of accounts you don’t use
This isn’t always practical, but if there are any social media accounts you seldom or never use, delete them. People search sites can’t find what isn’t there.
The opt-out function varies somewhat on each of these sites. It’s important to remember that other people have the same name as you, so make sure you correctly identify yourself before proceeding.
To remove yourself from Intelius:
- Go to their opt-out page: https://www.intelius.com/optout.php
- Following the Intelius steps, attach a scanned, valid ID: a driver’s license, passport, military ID, state-issued ID card, or state employee ID card. Alternately, you could substitute a notarized statement of your identity.
- Provide an email address. (This is optional, but adding one ensures you’ll get an email confirmation.)
- Type in the word that proves you aren’t a robot.
Click on Submit. Removal should be complete in seven to fourteen days.
- Scroll down to the section headed “What isn’t covered by this policy?” Click on the Click here link in the paragraph describing opt-out requests.
- On the Opt Out of PeopleSmart form, fill in the required fields. Click Find My Listing.
- Identify your listing and click That’s the One. Check the right terms and click Send Verification.
- Within a few second, you should receive an automatic email with a Complete Opt Out link. Follow the link, and click Okay.
It can take up to seventy-two hours to remove your listing. (Our test subject’s listing was gone in less than forty-eight.)
Like the others, WhitePages opting out is not very intuitive. Follow these steps:
- Visit http://www.whitepages.com
- Search your name.
- There may be several matches. Identify the right one, and click on View Free Details.
- On the results page, the first thing to do is copy the URL from the URL field at the top of your browser. Then scroll to the bottom of the page, and under Your Whitepages, click on Remove from Directory.
- On the Opt Out of Whitepages page, paste the URL into the opt-out field. Click on Opt Out.
- You’ll be asked, “Is this the person you want to remove?” Click Remove Me.
- The next page presents a pulldown list, beneath “Please help us understand why you want your information removed.” This is required. You’ll also see a four-digit verification code.
- Next is, “Verify your identity with a phone call.” Be sure you click the checkbox affirming you are who you say you are, and want your information removed.
- Click on Call Now to Verify. You should receive the call within a few seconds. Enter the verification code. You should be removed within twenty-four hours.
Define and Defend
After completing these removals and getting him off of these three sites, our test subject felt much better. Then we reminded him that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of these people search directories.
Like everyone else, our test subject has the right to define and defend himself online. That includes getting his information off of sites he doesn’t want to be on.
By using our tools, you can be proactive about your online reputation. We can remove your information from many of the data aggregate sites – including those people search sites – by constantly scanning the Internet. Whenever new information about you is posted, you’ll be alerted immediately.
With our tools and knowledge, you’ll be able to take charge of your online reputation. Visit our site today to learn more, or call us at 888-997-2406.