There are many good reasons to use people search sites like Whitepages.com and Spokeo.
Maybe you’re planning a class reunion for the first time in 20 years and want to know the email address of a missing classmate. Maybe you’re meeting a Tinder matchmaker and want to make sure the cute guy in the photo has no criminal record. Or maybe you’re an investigative journalist trying to reach out to hard-to-reach sources. I can’t.
Or maybe you’re a freak. And the reason you want personal information is to stalk your ex, harass him, or “docx” a public figure by giving your home address and phone number to an army of online trolls.
For $10 or less, anyone with a credit card can log on to hundreds of people search websites and download detailed background reports on nearly everyone in the United States. . These reports include phone numbers, email his address, home address, spouse and family names, criminal record, and other public records such as marriage certificates and bankruptcy.
What if I don’t want that information to be made public? Is there a way to remove data from the people search website for privacy or security reasons? We found the answer to be an overwhelming (and disappointing) “somehow”.
What are user search sites and how do they get their data?
Famous websites like Spokeo, Whitepages.com and PeopleFinder are just a few of the hundreds of user search websites. (according to privacy company Kanary’s list).
The People Search website is a type of “data broker,” a company that collects and sells personal information. The data brokerage industry is sprawling, largely unregulated, and includes powerful players like Google and credit bureaus like his Experian.
The People Search website obtains information in a variety of ways.
Some of it is publicly available information like real estate transactions, voter registrations, marriage licenses and divorce decrees, unsealed lawsuits and sex offender registrations.
Some information is purchased from other data brokers, like lead-generation companies that collect personal data through sweepstakes entries, surveys and mailing lists. People-search sites will also scour social media websites like Facebook and LinkedIn, or buy the data directly from those companies (check your privacy settings!).
“To me, the thing that’s the most bizarre is that they’re selling or giving away your information without your knowledge,” says Yael Grauer, an investigative reporter with Consumer Reports who covers digital privacy and security. “There’s this database where I can look up somebody’s name, address and everybody they live with.”
Deleting Your Information the DIY Way
What’s most frustrating to privacy advocates like Grauer is that there is no federal law or single online form you can fill out — like the National Do Not Call Registry — to delete your information from people-search websites. (California is the only state with laws that allow residents to request businesses to disclose and remove personally identifiable information, but even that law prohibits publicly available information. ) All websites should be contacted.
“Technically, we don’t have to allow opt-outs,” he says Grauer.
As a public service, Grauer maintains an online document called the Big Ass Data Broker Opt-Out List. We are constantly updating our list of all major people search websites and the procedures for removing your information on those websites. Some even have a simple online form. Others require multiple IDs. Grauer tries to make this easier by identifying “high priority” brokers (marked with skulls and crossbones).
She also gives you some useful tips. First, search for your name on people search websites before contacting us.
Miraculously, you may not have a profile on that particular site, so you can skip it (and avoid submitting your personal information to potentially questionable operations). .
If you require a photo of your ID to prove your identity, please use your cell phone’s markup tool to edit your driver’s license or social security number.
Pay Someone to Remove Data
If you are serious about removing data from all major People Search websites, the entire process can take anywhere from 6 business days up to 2 weeks. That’s a lot of time. To make matters worse, Grauer says his automated data mining software keeps popping up with your information, so this process he has to repeat every six months.
“I hate it when people have to do this because it’s unnecessarily tedious and time consuming.”
But can’t someone else do it for us? The answer is yes. There are many services out there that claim to erase personal information from the Internet, but in Grauer’s experience, not all are created equal. Grauer personally recommends her Kanary and DeleteMe, which offer subscription packages that continuously monitor and delete data. The cost is approximately $90 to $130 per year for individuals.