You may not realize this, but a lot of your personal information might be publicly available online to anyone who searches for you. This includes your name, age, address, phone number, email address, relationship status, and even court records. There are countless sites that provide this information, often for a small fee, and while it is possible to remove your info from them, doing so can be a bit of a challenge.
It can be shocking to visit a site like Spokeo, Intellius, MyLife, or BeenVerified—commonly known as data brokers or people-finding sites—and see all your information listed for anyone to see. But how are they even getting it?
“Often, it comes from scraping public records,” explains Gennie Gebhart, associate director of research at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “For example, if you own a home, that real estate transaction is public record. They draw from all sorts of sources.”
They can also grab information from social media sites, warranty cards you’ve submitted, sweepstakes you’ve entered, and other places you’ve submitted your own information, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
So while it’s unnerving to see your data on display, temper your expectations before going through the opt-out process below. You won’t be able to scrub yourself off the internet completely, and while you can remove your information from some of these sites, more are popping up all the time and re-scraping your data. It’s a bit like playing whack-a-mole, and it may not even be worth your time.
Taking action is more useful if you’re being individually targeted, Gebhart explains. If you’re being harassed by someone, or you’re a semi-public figure with a more urgent privacy need, opting out of these sites can be worthwhile. For others, it may be more trouble than it’s worth. But if you are willing to invest the time or have pressing privacy concerns, there are two primary ways to do it.
You have a few options when it comes to removing your information from these people-finders. The first option—which is free but quite time-consuming—is to opt out one by one, manually.