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Do-it-yourself online data removal

Being able to download media, make purchases, or enjoy the ease of online banking arguably makes life more convenient at times. But this 24/7 always-on access makes your personal privacy vulnerable. Search any one of the hundred or so people finder sites and you’re likely to find a listing with your full name, nicknames, date of birth, names of your family members and spouse, previous and current addresses, and phone numbers. Obviously, such findings make a powerful case for why you might want to remove your personal data from people-finder sites.

Many of these people-finder sites offer additional details such as social media profiles, marital status, employment history, education, and court cases for a small fee. Do you really want strangers having access to such personal information—for any reason?

Some of these people-finder sites provide information for legitimate purposes like background checks. But they also empower identity thieves, online stalking, and doxxing—the practice of exposing personal information online to encourage harassment.

At best these exploits of confidentiality are a nuisance. At worst, they’re dangerous and costly.

Remove your personal data online for optimal privacy

Fortunately, most aggregators have an opt-out policy, so you can demand they not give out your information. But the opt-out process can be very time-consuming. And it’s rarely a once-and-done process; scrubbing your data from these people-finder sites tends to be an ongoing process because the opt-out requests are usually temporary, meaning your information will pop up again in the future.

This is why we created TRACE-X. Because you’ve got better things to do than data scrubbing. LEARN MORE.

Feel like you want to tackle the many-headed data aggregate monster yourself? It’s a time-consuming process, but you can remove your personal data from people-finder sites; our do-it-yourself guide tells you how.

Prepare yourself with the correct information

Most of the companies listed on our Site List offer opt-out instructions on their site. Some are pretty straightforward and will only take you a few minutes to fill out a form. Results can happen in a few minutes to a few days. Many require submitting an email address to which they will send a confirmation when your data has been removed.

PRO TIP: Using your primary email address to opt-out of a site means you’ll be exposed once again for future exploitation. Consider using a private, temporary “burner” email address for this purpose. Check out Mashable‘s how-to article to set one up, here

Some people-finder sites may require you to fax a driver’s license or other government-issued ID to confirm your identity. While this may be a legitimate request, we agree it’s also ironic and kind of creepy.

To comply with this request but keep your privacy intact, make a copy of your ID, then black out your photograph and all identifying information except your name and address, and date of birth (if applicable). As we’ve said before, your information will probably make its way back to the same aggregator in the future and you don’t want your information to be even richer the next time around.

Remove your personal data via snail-mail

Some aggregators require a cover letter explicitly requesting an opt-out along with identification. The letter doesn’t need to be complicated. Here’s a script you can copy, paste, and edit:

Dear [name of site] Customer Support:

In accordance with your privacy policy, please remove my listing from your databases:

  1. First and last name
  2. Middle initial
  3. Nicknames and aliases
  4. Current address
  5. Age and date-of-birth

Please confirm receipt of this request and/or removal of my personal information as requested. Thank you for your assistance.

Do an internet search on your name

Some of the less scrupulous people-finder sites may actually retain information typed into their search boxes. So rather than doing a search for your name on their site it is better to use a search engine.

Fire up a search engine and type your name, followed by “site:” and the URL of the people finder service. Most will have an opt-out policy somewhere on their site but you may have to dig around to find it. Try looking in the footer or buried in a pull-down menu (there’s a reason they don’t want to make it easy).

PRO TIP: For added internet data security, we recommend utilizing the search engine DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo works the same as Google or Bing search engines with a few key differences: when you do a search in DDG, all ad trackers are blocked, preventing companies from tracking your online activity. It also keeps your search history private all the time (not just when you remember to set it to private).

Still think you want to tackle the behemoth of online data brokering yourself? Visit our Site List for a handy shortcut to create a checklist of the top 100 people finder sites.