This week’s Ask Desk question is about data brokers: “How do I delete my information from data aggregators?” Asks Jennifer Swindell from Sagley, Idaho. But first, we take a step back and start a little more publicly.
Checklist: What to do if you are harassed online
Google is what most people think about when they think about their data online. Search engine is the largest index of websites, but it is usually the messenger. Know that anything you manage to remove from a search result can still be live on the site hosting it unless you can remove it. You want to ask those sites to remove it.
First, Google yourself. Keep a list of where your information is popping up, and specifically look at your personal address, such as your address or phone number, any type of identification details (driver’s license number) or other information that you find inappropriate. Associate your name with your address or phone number in the search field.
Google has recently added a form, which may require you to remove certain results or information, if they are fake, posted without your consent, or if your name is randomly displayed and do not portray you. There is an option to remove information that you can use for docking, such as ID numbers, financial information, medical records, your physical address and other contact information.
Opt out, opt out some more
Now that cosmetic requests are over, it’s time for data brokers. There are hundreds of data brokers in the United States and you can find listings at organizations such as the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. To get started, let’s practice on big names like Acxiom, CoreLogic, Epsilon Data Management, Equifax and Experian. You may opt out of allowing these sites to share your data, and in some cases you may request it to be deleted. Naturally, you have various hoops on each site, such as emailing, filling out a form, mailing or faxing a letter, or confirming your identity.
Like Google results, removing your information from data brokers does not mean that it is out of date, and that it does not mean that other sites have not already acquired it if asked to share it. They get it from a myriad of sources, including apps you have installed on your phone, your browser or the websites you visit, your shopping history and public records. The information can be used to target ads or bubble up on publicly facing people’s search sites.
Limit what you put online
The best course of action is to limit what information about you exists online. Use our Privacy Reset Guide to turn on strong privacy settings for important apps or devices that you use regularly, including your smartphone, banking and social media sites. If you post on social media, be aware of what kind of information you share and make sure your settings are set to private.
Reset Privacy: Guide to the most important settings you need to change now
Use a privacy-focused browser and search engine and look for a global privacy control option or setting to prevent cross-site tracking. Avoid signing up for anything that might cause you to share your personal information like surveys. Delete any apps you don’t use (or don’t trust) from your computer, smartphone, and tablet.
In 2020, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) passed, giving state residents more options to protect and delete their data. As part of the law, companies must delete your personal data upon request, although you will need to confirm your identity. Some companies have gone ahead and made this option available to people who live anywhere in the United States, while others do so only for residents of California. (You may request a copy of your data with this law or the company will not sell your personal information.)
To start your first CCPA requests, we’ve created the Tatum Hunter Guide on the Help Desk.
How to ask a company to delete your personal data
Use a third party service
If you did not know before starting this article, you now know how much work it takes to actually delete your personal information. There are paid services that can do most of the removal for you, and are a good option if you are worried about your personal safety (they agree that some data is out of their control).
DeleteMe starts at $ 69 a year and offers to scan data brokers and websites on a regular basis for your personal data and requests it to be removed. OneRep is a similar device that starts at $ 8.33 a month. If you’re worried about identity theft, you can sign up for Norton’s LifeLock. The Jumbo app tries to maximize your privacy settings across apps and includes both free and paid versions. AccountKiller is a tool to delete your old online accounts.
You may visit some opt-out sites such as the FTC’s Don’t Call Registry and OptOutPrescreen.com.
Doug MacMillan contributed to this report.