As most of us can attest, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep our personal information private. While you might find something darkly humorous about the internet knowing the exact pair of shoes you want to buy or that you’re in the market for a waffle maker, certain companies also possess much more intimate knowledge about us. And that is a cause for concern.
Most of us are well aware that companies are collecting data about us every second we’re online. These companies, called data brokers or online data aggregators, not only collect our personal information. They also sell that data, and conclusions made about us based on that data, to other data brokers and companies. These companies are notoriously secretive, so it’s no surprise if this is the first time you’re hearing about them.
By sifting through public records and licensing agreements, data brokers can assemble a remarkably full and accurate picture of your personal information. This encompasses things like your online browsing and shopping habits, information about your health and finances, and personal details like your address and phone number. Due to the sheer volume of data available about each of us as individuals and the fact that this wealth of data is not known to be securely stored, this opens our data up to companies and individuals who might not have the purest intentions, as well as to identity theft or doxxing.
While there is no way to prevent your data from being collected if you choose to use the Internet, there are certain steps you can take to limit the amount of data that is collected and stored about you. You also have the option to remove your data from most sites. While it will require you to invest some time and effort, you may very well determine that it is worth it to keep more of your personal information private.
Removing your data from online data aggregators.
Although most data aggregator and people search sites have an opt-out policy, that doesn’t mean they make it easy for you to request that they stop using your information. Most insist that you follow a very specific set of steps and, be warned – the opt-out process for some can be quite involved.
Before you get started, consider creating a burner email account and phone number. Rather than giving companies your preferred email address and home or cellphone number, you can give them the information from your burner accounts. This will keep them from gathering potentially new information about you.
Let’s start with some of the easier opt-out sites first. Certain sites allow you to opt-out of having your information used by filling out a form on their website. The people searcher site Nuwber is a good example of a fairly straightforward opt-out process. Using the profile removal link, you can request that your information is no longer available on the site.
In many cases, the process of removing your data won’t be so simple. Other data aggregator sites will require that you make a phone call or send a letter formally stating that you wish to opt-out of the site. If you’re serious about removing your information from the bigger data aggregator sites, create a cover letter template that you can reuse for each request. In most cases, you will have to include information like your name, date of birth, and current address. Some sites may also ask for a form of identification. Be sure that you block out all information except your name, address, and birthdate before submitting a copy to the site in question. Again, no reason to give them additional details!
There are also third-party services available that can remove your information, for a fee of course. If you choose to pursue that route, verify that the company you decide to use is reputable and won’t actually be harvesting more of your personal data. As most opt-out policies are only effective temporarily, this might prove to be a better long-term solution if you’re serious about keeping your personal data private to the extent you can.
Besides taking advantage of what opt-out policies you can, there are a few other steps you can take to try to protect your personal information before it gets into the hands of data brokers:
- Ask your phone company to keep your number unlisted and allow you to opt-out of sales calls.
- Freeze your credit, which will keep creditors from viewing your credit report, and opt-out of prescreened credit offers.
- Put yourself on the Do Not Call Registry.
If you’re using the Internet today, it’s inevitable that companies and organizations are collecting your personal information. As our personal data becomes an increasingly valuable commodity, we serve as our own best defense when it comes to protecting personal information. Investing some time and effort to take advantage of opt-out policies will keep companies from using your information. Longer-term, keep companies from accessing your personal information in the first place by being proactive. You can never be too cautious with the personal information you share these days!