Today, there are numerous databases and search engines being filled with our personal data, and more people are using online tools to do background checks on their neighbors, business associates and potential employees. Here are some tips for removing personal information from online databases:
Removing Personal Information From Search Engines
If you search on someone’s name, you’ll find a surprising amount of personal information about them on Google and other search engines. Removing this information is often quite difficult. Most requests to have pages removed from search engines will go unheeded, except in very special circumstances. For more information, see this article about Removing Your Personal Information From Google. Generally, search companies will tell you to take it up with the websites hosting the pages in question — they recommend submitting an email or letter to the website hosting the content. Indeed, this often the easiest route — I’ve had success with this approach myself.
If you have a lot of money to spare, a company called Reputation will attempt to obliterate any unwanted search engine results about you. They do this by pushing more flattering search results about you to the top of the results page. Their services don’t come cheap however — their prices are around $3000 to $5000 per year!
Since removing information is so difficult, it’s best not to allow your information to reach search engines in the first place. Here’s a guide to stopping your personal information leaking into search engines and other databases.
Removing Personal Information From Background Check Websites
There are companies called “Background Check Websites” that make a business out of gathering people’s personal information from public records and market companies, and then reselling it in a convenient package. They collect public records like real estate transactions, arrest records, court cases, marriages, divorces, etc. Before the Internet, investigators would have to go to the local town hall or the state records office and request this public information in person. Now anyone can obtain this information for as little as $3.95 (from Spokeo).
The major players in background checks are listed below:
There’s a more extensive list maintained by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
You can check out your own records by going to these sites and entering your name, age and state of residence. To pull up the actual record, you’ll have to pay them a fee.
If you wish to remove your information from these sites, it will requires time and patience. Each site has a different procedure. For some, you can delete your record by just filling out an online form, other sites require you to make a telephone call, or mail or fax in forms and copies of your driver’s license. See this handy guide to get your started.
If you prefer, you can pay a company like Safe Shepard or Abine to do the grunt work for you. Safe Shepard has a free service that removes records from services that don’t require a fax or snail mail request. A premium service, which performs more thorough records removal and includes a personal customer service representative, costs $14 per month. Abine offers a service called DeleteMe that “removes your private data from 50+ of the largest websites that collect and sell your data”. The service costs $99.
Is it annoying to have to shell out cash or spend days filling out forms to get your information deleted? Yes! And even when you delete all these records, the public records will still exist in government databases — you are just making the information more difficult to obtain.
Deleting Online Accounts
I recommend that you delete any accounts with online companies that have poor privacy records. At the top of this list would be Google and Facebook accounts. See also this latest report on Google’s privacy violations, for example. You can get help deleting account on the Account Killer website, or you can check out this guide: Permanently Deleting Accounts on Popular Websites. For a list of alternative services that maintain your privacy see my article How To Control Your Online Data.