You’re probably aware that many websites and companies make a living off selling your private information to advertisers. These sites collect your demographics and shopping habits in an effort to target specific advertisements to you and get you to spend more money. Sadly, this is the reality for the overwhelming majority of websites on the internet.
But did you know that a lot of this scraped information is widely available on people search databases? – Sites like Intelius or Spokeo that put your private, personal information on public display? And if they don’t make it public, they sell it for a nominal fee in the form of a background check. I had known about these practices for years, but the stark reality of the power of people search databases didn’t hit me until I began working for Reputation.com a little over a year ago.
My Online Privacy Scare
Last spring I moved to Silicon Valley to work for online privacy start up Reputation.com. A month or two after I started work, I was shown how to look myself up on leading public records people search sites, such as Whitepages, Spokeo, Intelius, Pipl, and BeenVerified to name a few. What I saw completely blew my mind.
That’s a satellite view photo of my new house…
That’s right, Intelius already had my new Bay Area address in their system less than 2 months after I’d moved in, and they had a satellite view photo of my house publicly available. It felt very big brother-esque to say the least.
Now imagine if I were a young woman escaping an abusive relationship, or had someone relentlessly stalking me. The fact that this information is publicly available is frightening. So what can you do to delete your private information from these people search databases?
I’m glad you asked!
How do people search databases collect your private information?
In order to remove your records, it’s important to know how these sites collect your personal information. There are two types of people search websites:
Public Records Sites
These sites simply publicize the records available at your local county public records office. This information has always been publicly available, but it wasn’t so easily accessed until data mining companies put it on the Internet. Often these sites send representatives out to physical public records offices and access your data that way. Since these are all legal documents, the information contained on these sites is often incredibly accurate. Here’s a few of the common public records these sites draw from:
- Real estate transactions & utilities payments
- Marriage license
- Birth & death certificates
- Voter registration & political campaign contributions
- Criminal records
- Savings card signups from your local grocery store
Aggregators & Social Media Lookup Sites
The second type of people search sites are those that don’t actually gather records, but simply aggregate information from other people search databases and social networking sites. Since these sites simply scrape existing data, they are more prone to inaccuracies and confused data. They’re still pretty accurate, so they shouldn’t be written off as less important. These aggregating people search sites collect data from the following sources:
- Primary people search databases
- Public social networks
- Forum posts
- Public listings online
What types of private information do these databases collect?
The best way to see what information is available about you is to simply look yourself up in the following major peoplesearch databases:
The information you’ll most likely see on these sites is:
- Demographic information – your age, gender, income, political affiliation, & marital status
- Shopping habits – major purchases, hobbies, interests, online ad preferences
- Home information – your address, home value, IP address, satellite photo of your house
Once you’ve identified which databases have your information, here’s each site’s opt-out information so you can get your data removed. In order to protect your privacy, these sites have to remove information upon your request. However each site has its own steps you must follow before they’ll do so. Here’s how to do it:
How to opt out of 17 top people search databases
Intelius - https://www.intelius.com/optout.php
Intelius is an outlier in that they require you to scan valid government identification to prove your identity. While it may seem paradoxical that you’d need to send in more personal information to have your data removed, Intelius is reputable about this. They won’t publish your driver’s license and they will remove your listing- I’ve done it many times successfully. Don’t forget to cross out your photo and driver’s license number.
Spokeo - http://www.spokeo.com/privacy
All you have to do is copy your Spokeo URL and they’ll send you an email to confirm the deletion. Note: Spokeo is only an aggregator, so deleting your Spokeo listing won’t delete your information from the sites Spokeo is pulling from.
Peoplesmart - http://www.peoplesmart.com/optout
Simply fill out the form and you’re good to go!
Zabasearch - http://www.zabasearch.com/block_records/
Another site from the same people who run Intelius that requires you to fax a copy of your driver’s license to 425-974-6194. Again, remember to cross out your photo and your license number.
Peoplefinders - http://www.peoplefinders.com/optout-form.pdf
You must fill out this form, print it, and physically mail it in. It’s a pain in the butt (and designed to be annoying), but it works.
Pipl – Pipl is different since it’s a ‘meta’ site aggregator. From the fine folks at unlistmy.info:
Unfortunately, since Pipl.com aggregates information from all sorts of places on the web, there are no clear opt-out instructions. They claim that, since the information they gather is public, they reserve the right to display it in their listings without giving users the option of opting out.
This attitude towards privacy just doesn’t seem right. We suggest sending them an email asking to be removed from their search results: firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know if you have any luck!
There’s no specific opt-out form. Instead email Support@BeenVerified.com with the following information:
- First & last name with middle initial
- Aliases & AKAs
- Current address
- Age & DOB
Then you have to confirm via email, and you’re good to go. Check out this reddit thread for more info.
“To request that a Member Profile or Public Profile be deleted, please contact Customer Care at 1-888-704-1900 or contact us by email at email@example.com. Upon receipt of these requests, and confirmation that you are requesting that your own profile be removed, please allow MyLife 10 business days to complete this removal. It may be necessary to contact you to validate that you are the profile owner requesting the removal. This is to ensure the correct identity and profile ownership before completing these requests, and is for the protection of our users and their privacy.”
Similar to Pipl, Yasni is simply a meta aggregator. You must find your other public record listings to get deleted from Yasni.
Zoominfo - http://www.zoominfo.com/lookupEmail
Zoominfo’s records are organized by email address, so enter your email address in the form and it will pull up any related records. Remember to search ALL of your old email addresses just to be sure.
Another secondary aggregator, but Spoke lets you submit data you’d like suppressed through their contact form. They also recommend you directly contact public records sources and get your information protected at the source.
LexisNexis allows you to opt out only if you’re a public facing official, an identity theft victim, or facing serious threat of harm or injury. They require proper legal documentation of any of those criteria in order to remove your information. If you meet the criteria, submit your removal request here.
Whitepages - http://www.whitepages.com/privacy_central#6
Whitepages instructions are more than a bit confusing. They say you can easily remove records, but then provide no real way to actually get them taken down. You have to search for your individual listings, claim them as yourself, and then submit them for removal. The good news is that Whitepages is incredibly quick at removing info – sometimes in under an hour.
Fill out the form and they’ll remove your listing. Of course, they want you to confirm with a photo of your ID. Same rules apply with Intelius/Zabasearch- cross out your photo and ID number.
Radaris - http://radaris.com/page/how-to-remove
Simply follow the steps on the removal page above. It can take a while, but they’ve laid everything out you need to remove listings for you or your family.
PrivateEye - http://secure.privateeye.com/help/default.aspx#26
Fill out and mail in this form identical to the Peoplefinders form (the companies are affiliated)
Another site that needs a scanned ID for proof of identity. Fax proof of ID to 516-717-3017 and allow 4-6 weeks for removal.
Here are some more useful tools for protecting your personal information:
There are a lot of other groups concerned with keeping your personal information safe and secure.
For instance, UnlistMy.info has a detailed list of people search databases and detailed instructions on removing your info.
The other problem with removing all this personal information yourself is that, quite frankly, it’s difficult. You have to contact each site individually, they all have different verification/removal methods, and often times new records will pop up over time. For those of you who simply don’t have the time to deal with this yourself, there are two great professional services we recommend to unlist your personal information:
Reputation.com’s MyPrivacy and Abine’s DeleteMe. Both are legitimate services from reputable companies – check them out! Abine also has a great collection of opt-out forms for some other people search sites.
And if you’re looking for a private, secure place to share photos, stories, and other information online then Join the Online Privacy Revolution and sign up for a free Sgrouples account today! For more great privacy tips like this follow us on twitter @Sgrouples and check out our Facebook page.