Data brokers are data collection companies that gather personally identifiable information (PII) to sell it to other companies. According to WebFX, data brokering is a $200 billion industry with over 4000 companies worldwide. The largest of those companies holds 3000 points of data per person for over 500 million people.
Most people understand that credit reporting agencies like Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are gathering our personal data but may not realize that many less-publicized companies do so without our knowledge or consent.
In the U.S, state and federal privacy laws are beginning to challenge data brokers and bring them out of the shadows. Unfortunately, the laws are still vague and may be time-limited, so your data can often still be acquired easily.
A lot of the information data brokers collect is publicly available, such as census data, birth certificates, marriage licenses, voter history, and court records. However, we freely give away a great deal of information every time we:
Companies then use this data to predict purchase and payment behavior, determine creditworthiness, detect fraud, or target marketing campaigns.
A subset of data brokers is people search sites. A quick Google search of a person’s name or phone number can often bring up several sites claiming they will help you find lost loves or old friends. Sadly, they are notorious for gathering and then selling your information to customers, including banks, cable and cellular phone companies, political campaigns, government agencies, and law enforcement. They will release your private information to anyone looking, often for a fee.
While some people use these sites to find people they’ve lost touch with, others may use them to locate private information for doxxing.
These sites are the low-hanging fruit for those looking to use your information with malicious intent. In many cases, if they can’t find your details easily, they may just move on. So in that sense, removing yourself from such sites may be all you need to do.
If you’ve been a victim of domestic abuse or identity-related crimes, you may be able to remove yourself permanently from specific sites. Credit reporting agencies like Equifax also have to respect your wishes if you want to delete your information for good.
In most cases, though, these sites are under no obligation to remove you or maintain a list of people who have opted out. Unfortunately, that means even if you have gone to the trouble of deleting your details, they could turn up again.
You might think people search sites will display your address, phone number, and maybe an email address or two. The fact is, they often give away so much more. Searchers can also find employment history, photos, court records, and names and contact information of relatives, making it easy for people with malicious intent to dox you, stalk you, or even steal your identity.
If you have a credit history, use social media, or have a high-profile job or personal life, chances are you’ll never be able to keep private information off the internet. That said, removing yourself from people search sites will make you much more difficult to find.
On each site, you’ll find an opt-out or removal page where you can begin the process of deleting your information. Ironically, you may need to create an account or provide identification such as a driver’s license to complete the opt-out process. If you go this route, be sure to create a new, disposable email address and blur out your driver’s license number to protect your privacy.
It’s also important to note that since online information changes quickly and people search sites come and go, these lists may not be inclusive or current.
You can remove yourself from sites like SmartBackgroundChecks or SearchPeopleFree, and it doesn’t usually cost anything. The problem is it can take a lot of time to go through the convoluted process of removing your information from dozens of lists, only to have it pop up again in 3-6 months.
One solution is to hire a service to do the heavy lifting for you. For example, privacy management platforms use automated software to perform an initial scan of many people search sites. The software will automatically complete the removal process once the scan shows where your information is.
Unfortunately, a single removal usually isn’t enough. Maintenance is essential to keep your information from returning to the sites.
When you choose a product that offers ongoing monitoring, the system will continue scanning periodically and remove your details before any issues occur.
Are you ready to protect your employees and executives from threats to their personal security related to exposed PII? Let them know you’ve got their best interests in mind.
PrivacyBrain will take care of the process for your entire organization, scouring the internet for your employees’ exposed PII and automatically removing every piece of information identified.
With ongoing maintenance, we’ll ensure that information stays off the sites. In addition, our intuitive dashboard allows you and your employees to see what information has been exposed and allows you can see the progress as it is removed.
Contact us today to learn more about our business privacy management solution.