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How to Remove Private Personal Information from the Internet

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Privacy LocksNow that the Facebook privacy firestorm has, for the most part, eased up a bit, people seem to be a little more concerned about internet privacy. The scary thing is that of all the things that should worry you, Facebook probably has the least amount of information about it. When it comes to personal information, who your friends are, what your hobbies are, and how many hours you spend on Farmville are the icing on the cake. The cake itself is made up of your actual personal details (name, address, age, social security, emails), your purchasing behavior (where you shop, when, and what you buy), your borrowing behavior (loans, credit cards), and other juicy bits.

You can buy a lot of that data from data brokers and marketers. For example, through the Ameridex Information Systems Nationwide Index you can find someone’s address and date of birth through a search that requires only a first and last name (it’s more accurate if you have DOB and or city/state/ZIP) for $1.95 cents each. They also have a Death Index that lets you search for death certificates that will return their name, social, DOB, date of death, state of issue and state of death for $1.95. If you have a bunch of SSNs to process, they cost a nickel or less and the results are available online through an Excel file.

And that’s just the beginning…

I was alerted to this massive list of data brokers by “Bob Smith” who wrote:

Below is a link to a current and extensive list of data brokers, marketers, online directories along with information on how to opt out of them. It would be interesting to see an article about privacy along with massive amount of data companies have about individuals. I found this list while surfing online and I can say that this is the most extensive and current list of databases and how to opt out of them.

link

Data Brokers

The links below go directly to the removal page, if it exists, or just to the terms & conditions where opt-out instructions are included. If you search for “opt,” you will usually find details.

Marketers, Direct Mail

Many of these companies are in the direct mail marketing business (think: those blue Valpak envelopes) and removing your information may also mean a big reduction in junk mail.

People Directories

The sites on this list are those 411/People Search type of directories where you can look someone up. In most cases, you will need to do a search on yourself and find your result. Then, look for a “Is this you? Remove your listing” link and click that for further details.

Social Networks & Data Aggregators

These are sites that search social networks and aggregate that information in one place.

General Marketing Opt Outs

These are the more well known online, offline, and telephone opt-out mechanisms.

Some of the places require you to fax in a written request, for that might I recommend these free online fax resources.

I’ve checked all the links and confirm that they are pointed to the right page, if that should change in the future, let me know and I’ll fix the links. Thanks!

(Photo: pong)

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30 Responses to “How to Remove Private Personal Information from the Internet”

  1. Jim,
    If you ran a company that sells all this data, would your ‘opt-out’ page truly be a page for allowing people to opt out?

    Isn’t it more likely that it’s a data mining page for suckers?

    I have no evidence, but I’m not giving any information.

    • Jim says:

      My thinking is that if your opt-out page wasn’t and the FTC found out, you’d be shut down in a heart beat. You make FAR more money being honest than you do by deception in this business.

      This isn’t email spam. :)

      • billsnider says:

        There is no goverment agency overseeing this. It is up to the company to be honest. Good companies in fact do it. Bad companies…..

        Well, you type in the rest.

        Bill Snider

      • Anonymous says:

        Great post Jim! But I also have concerns that these opt-out pages are legitimate. Can anyone confirm that once you opt-out, the information stays removed a week or so later?

        • Jim says:

          I submitted a couple of the forms (for the aggregators like Spock) and I can check back in a week or two to see if it’s actually been removed.

        • billsnider says:

          You have to understand a few things.

          First there are different updates. Some companies do it daily and some monthly. There is no standard.

          Second, they don’t remove the information. They just add a code noting that you selected this option.

          Third this does not limit them from using your data for their analysis purposes. The data is there. Your option is just one more peice of the puzzle.

          Bill Snider

  2. Frugal says:

    While I keep low proflie, I will still need time to get thru the list and remove any personal information.

    I am not surprised with the list as this is the information age.

    • billsnider says:

      Read my emails below. If you told someone at some time some info about yourself, it is now being sold all over.

      Bill Snider

  3. billsnider says:

    There are endless ways for companies to get this data – both directly and inferred.

    An example of inferred is what the IRS tried a bunch of years ago. They took the subscribers to yachting magazine and ran it against their files. Wouldn’t you know it – many of the subscribers didn’t file a tax form. You fill in the rest.

    Then there are the Carol Wright type programs out there. You give them all kinds of info and they give you cents off coupons. What are people reporting – their medical ailments, the names, sex and age of evryone they live with, their occupantion and income, leisure time activities, etc.

    Then there are the warranty cards. Ever notice that they all go to Boulder Colorado? That is nothing else than a huge data gathering service. they sell this stuff and make a pretty bundle doing it. People are quite honest since they think that registers their warranty. What happens in reality? You take it back to the local store.

    The key to all this stuff is the cheap cost of data storage and data retreival.

    Bill Snider

  4. billsnider says:

    Actually there are a lot more ways. You are all familiar with Trans Union, Experian, etc. I worked with these companies at one time. You would be amazed at what they can do and provide.

    One service I used is sold by Experian. They have an address and linkage service dating back a bunch of years. I can find out your maiden name or older adrdress and link that to a bunch of stuff.

    Fun stuff.

    Bill Snider

  5. cubiclegeoff says:

    Thanks for the comprehensive list. It’ll take a while to go through, but worth the time.

  6. zapeta says:

    Wow, what a great list. It will take a while to get through all of these!

  7. Yana says:

    Spokeo is a little disturbing, mainly because I found myself on it. I’m very into privacy. I am not on zabasearch. I thought all the commotion about Facebook was silly. I live on there, but they sure don’t know anything valuable about me, including my real name. They don’t know what you don’t give them.

    That reference from Bill Snider about the “Carol Wright type” stuff is how I used to advise people to get credit cards sent to them. It used to be you filled out shopper surveys for coupons, and you could be assured the data would be sold. They always asked your income, but it was not a credit application or anything where you had to be honest – you weren’t even supposed to know what they were doing with the info! It was just about coupons ;) Then there was the MetroMail scandal where people who filled out the questionnaire had their info sorted by prison inmates, and were supposed to be victims of identity theft because of it. There was a lawsuit, and they sent out $100 checks where you could accept the check and give up further litigation rights, or not accept the check and try to sue. I accepted the check; my friend rejected it just in case. She never got a dime.

  8. daenyll says:

    definitely something I’ll have to take some time to do. I should probably renew the do not call registrations and the opt outs on the credit bureaus for prequalified offers while I’m at it.

    • billsnider says:

      Keep in mind that on some of these websites,, you are opted out for “X” years. It is like the Do Not Call list. It is good for 5 years (not sure if this has been revised lately).

      Bill Snider

  9. This is definitely a post to bookmark. It’s scary how much of your personal information is up for sale.

  10. Anonymous says:

    This is a very useful post. I too am frightened by how easy it is to get my personal information.

    • billsnider says:

      It is easier than you think.

      For instance, some states sell their registration information.

      The census releases data at the ‘block group” level (not individual). So they can do a pretty good job at figuring you out.

      Companies use last names to guess at your nationallity and your first name to infer your birth year (ever read those news groups which tell you the most popular names for the year?).

      Catalogs exchange info about your purchases.

      It goes on and on.

      There is even an annual event related to this. The Direct marketing Association (DMA) holds an all day conference called LIST DAY. This is when all the folks who do this get together to learn new techniques, exchange ideas and files and a whole lot more.

      Bill Snider

  11. Bob Smith says:

    Law enforcement and public officials use these same links to opt out their personal information from the databases of data brokers in order to keep their information private from individuals who could pose a threat of death or serious bodily harm to them and their families.

  12. eric says:

    Wow this is an amazing collection of links. I only wish there was a button to opt out of all of them.

    • Bob Smith says:

      There are companies out there who will electronically opt out one’s personal information from various data broker databases for a fee (usually around $10 per month).

      There are also other companies who will sell a concerned individual a PDF book or a package of electronic letters that have all the forms prefilled for her/him so that s/he can print and mail them to the data brokers. They charge a one-time fee ranging from $35 to $50.

  13. Chuck Teller says:

    Jim – great article. Catalog Choice is launching a new service that will give @eric his button to opt-out of all of them and give the general public a secure “system of record” of their opt-out and the company’s confirmation so we can put an end to the cat and mouse game some marketers and information brokers play. We are holding companies accountable to their privacy policy.

  14. nick says:

    Holy crap, so I have to go to each and every single one of these websites and go into their privacy section and figure out what their protocol is (amidst the pages of legalese) for having my personal information removed? Also, I checked out a few of these so called privacy pages and they want my social security number in order to “authenticate” me. And only THEN will they remove my personal information from their public listings.
    This is just crazy. Can’t someone come up with a better solution for this? This kind of stuff makes the US a very uncomfortable place to live sometimes.

  15. Alias says:

    In other words, you have to give these jerks MORE personal info in a futile attempt to remove the info they already have on you. No wonder identity thieves are so easily stealing our lives!

  16. Aaron says:

    Thought I would post how to get rid of your information from some of the newer people directories/data brokers. Perhaps you want to add them if the post gets updated.

    addresssearch.com/remove-info.php

    instantcheckmate.com/optout/info

    peoplesmart.com/optout

    phonebooks.com/data.html

  17. incognito says:

    I just wanted to remove one thing that was published in a newspaper about 40 years ago which has since been posted on the internet by the local public library and comes up in the second page of a google search of my name. The reason is because I am concerned it will hamper my success in a current job search. I Received a denial to remove from the Manager of Science Business and News at the library. I’m not sure if I can afford the fees to pay someone to clean it up for me and I shouldn’t be spending the time to wade through all the information on this subject to determine what if any of the advice will really work and then take the time to implement the damage control. I should be spending the time on my job search rather than dealing with this stuff.
    I sure would like to see some legislation on the fedreal level that deals with this issue. I realize that it is a controversial subject. The issue was an arrest for pot and the court records were sealed. In the past, someone would have to acquire a copy or the newspaper or go to the library and look through their archives to view this kind of old information. Now it is only a few clicks away from everyone in the world. I can understand that the freedom of information act and freedom of speech come into play here but this information shouldn’t be available to anyone, anywhere at the click of a mouse. I can understand the right of the library to provide the printed material but it should only be available to the general public by logging onto the library website or walking into the library. I can also understand the information should be available to law enforcement and certain other govt. agencies. I was arrested and went to court and the court records were sealed but there is still two lines in a newspaper that bring this thing out of the past just because of the internet information age and those unscrupulous data miners looking to make a buck.
    The buck should stop once and for all and Congress should produce legislation to keep the data miners from copying and scattering personal and private information for everyone to see. As far as I am concerned it is as bad as someone taking a picture of you naked or doing something embarrassing and then making copies and posting it all over town. It is slanderous. Maybe there should be a class action suit against all these companies for slander. I bet they would back off these practices real quickly.
    If any one can give me advice on what I can do with my problem, for the time being, I would appreciate it.

  18. mack k says:

    There is absolutely no reason why the Fed government shouldn’t be able to ban this practice through regulation/a bill. Well ok, there is one: PROFIT. We little people don’t have the lobbyist access to Congress that big business does to stop these kinds of activities. All we have are our feet, and our voices; protests, and contacting our representatives demanding it. It’s a sad statement on the country when those with more money can do anything they want to those with less money.

  19. mack k says:

    And I forgot to add that I hold these data miners partially responsible for the rise in identity theft. Before these guys started selling all our personal info to anyone willing to pay for it, ID theft was not as prevalent, or easy as it is now.


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