Thanks Internet. It’s been fun, but now I am going to clean up my personal information online

aolI know the internet as we know it is pretty new, but even for an old person like me it seems to have been around forever.  I first accessed the world wide web when I was about 20 years old using one of my 1,000 free hours that AOL sent me on a CD-Rom.  My modem made those cool noises that the younger generation today will never know, and after some beeps and hums as I connected AOL, I was off to surf the web. Never did I imagine that the internet would become what it is today and never did I imagine that my personal information would be so easy for anyone to access online.

Since I first stepped  my virtual foot onto the web, I have signed up for countless email accounts. Some were abandoned due to forgotten passwords, some because better email services were introduced and I quickly jumped ship. I have probably registered on hundreds, if not thousands of websites to gain access to content that was only available to members and to participate in discussions in message boards and forums.  More recently, with the huge advances in mobile, I have downloaded well more than 100 apps for my phone, some requiring registration.  Until now, I never really thought about what was really happening to the information I provided such as my name, city, state, age, valid email and sometimes more.  I know they probably laid it all out in the fine print, but who really reads all that stuff anyway.

tv_guideBefore the internet became so popular, us older folks paid for magazine subscriptions.  If you wanted to keep up on cars and trucks, you anxiously awaited for those magazines to arrive each month.  Did you want to learn about the latest and greatest in the science world, there were magazines for that.  How about knowing what was going to be on TV this week and the next few weeks.  Yes, you could subscribe to the TV Guide which would make sure you knew when your shows would be on which channel.  Like today, I never really thought about what happened to the information I provided when I subscribed to those magazines either.

Well, I have since learned that personal information is worth a lot of money.  I am not talking about personal information obtained by someone to be used in identity theft, but yes, that could be worth a lot of money to someone also.  I am referring to all the little tidbits of information you provide on app and website registrations, voter registration cards, change of address requests with the post office, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, and even information provided when joining a discount card program at a store.  Have you ever thought about what happens to that information?  Well, in some cases, the information is packaged up and sold through data brokers.  These would be people or companies dealing with personal information of hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of people.  Information such as the latest address used in a subscription or registration, you latest phone number or even your age range.  This information is valuable to companies such as those trying to get you to buy a product or service.  While your little bit of information may not seem to be worth a lot of money to you, combine it with the same type of information for a million people and you could see how someone would want to pay to have access to that much valid up-to-date personal information.

Start removing your info here

So, you may be thinking that you will be a little more cautious when filling out the forms from now on.  Do you remember that contest for the trip to Aruba that you saw advertised a few years back?  All you had to do was fill out some basic information on a small piece of paper and drop it in the box for a chance to enter.  Did you ever win?  Probably not.  Did you just provide a bunch of current personal information about yourself to someone you have never met and have no idea what they are going to do with it?  Yes.  Face it, your personal information is being collected everywhere.

The government even makes personal information publicly available about you and there is really not much you can do about that.  Property records, marriage and death records, court records, voter registration information, and voter_regmore, all containing little snippets of your personal information and life.  There are databases of information at the federal, state, county and local level that are accessed by companies in a legitimate way, but on a much wider scale than you or I typically would.  For example, if you wanted to get a copy of marriage certificate for someone in your family, you may drive down to a courthouse and request that one document.  This same document, or the data for the document such as the names, date and location, may be available in an electronic format and publicly available, but most of us don’t know how to access that information or have the right tools to do so.  There are companies out there that acquire this data by the hundreds of thousands or by the millions and present it in a user-friendly way and they are good at it.  Combine the publicly available information from the government with the years or decades of information you have been providing without thinking about it and someone can get a really good glimpse at your personal life.

A simple search for a person in many of the people search sites will reveal the name, age, current address and phone numbers, past addresses and phone numbers, names of neighbors, relatives and associates, social networking accounts and email addresses, information about any property or home they may have purchased, criminal and traffic records and in some cases, the average household income.

People search sites are a great example of acquiring publicly accessible data and data obtained through other sources and presenting them in a format that is easily read.  These sites allow anyone with an internet connection to type in a first name, last name, and a location, to ultimately be presented with a list of matches for the information.  They can then look through those matches to view additional information.  A simple search for a person in many of the people search sites will reveal the name, age, current address and phone numbers, past addresses and phone numbers, names of neighbors, relatives and associates, social networking accounts and email addresses, information about any property or home they may have purchased, criminal and traffic records and in some cases, the average household income.  Some people search sites offer some information for free with an option to pay for a more in-depth report about a person, but in many cases the even the information that you can view for free about you offered on these sites may not be information you necessarily everyone to have easy access to.

Start removing your info here

Lucky for those of us that value our privacy, most of the legitimate people search sites offer a way to request to have your information removed from their system.  Some people search sites make it easy by allowing you to use an online form, while others may require you to mail your request through the U.S. Mail or fax the request to them.  It does not really matter how they want you to request to remove your info, the good thing is that they give you an option.

This website has a growing list of some of the most popular people search sites and directions on how to request to either remove, suppress, or edit your information for each site.  Last I checked, I think all but one were free to request to remove your information.  Going through the list and removing your data from each people search site is not an easy task and will take a while, but if you don’t want your personal information so easily obtainable online, you will spend the time to do it.

I hope the information above helped.  If you know of a people search site that is not listed, please let this site know so we can research the site and add it to our list so others can benefit also.

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