Technology has made it impossible to remain anonymous today. Everything you do both online and offline could be an opportunity to capture your information unknown to you. Every time you run a Google search, the websites you visit can track your search behaviors using cookies. The gathered data can be used to target customized online ads there onwards and even could be shared with others. And when you sign up for a loyalty card at your local supermarket, that data could also exchange hands and get stored in databases of third parties such as data brokers. Even simple apps downloaded to your phone could be extracting and sharing information without your knowledge.
The reality is that we are now living in a data economy, and you cannot escape it. But you can control how you interact with it and take effective steps to minimize your online data footprint. This also includes controlling personal information accumulated by data brokers. And in this guide, we provide you with 3 easy steps to protect your privacy by removing records stored by data brokers and aggregators.
Who are Data Brokers?
Let’s first understand who data brokers are, their function and why they would be interested in your data.
Data brokers collate and organize data into useful information with profiling techniques for various purposes. These can be used or shared with third parties for targeted advertising, background screening and even risk assessments. Data brokers would, therefore, build profiles of anyone and everyone whose data they can access, which they could then share directly with individuals or organizations.
They use a vast network of information sources, both online and offline, to collate your information. These can include social media profiles, subscription signups, media reports and even public records such as marriage licenses and vehicle registrations.
What type of information would they have?
In a data economy, the value of information is immeasurable. Therefore, data brokers will collect a vast amount of personal information unknown to you. This is because even the smallest piece of detail will have a utility value beyond what you could possibly imagine and therefore can be monetized.
And what type of information about you will data brokers store in their databases? The most basic information could include your name, age, marital status, address, and contact number. They could have details of your employer and employment history. And data such as asset ownership, mortgages, loans, tax liens, bankruptcy filings can all be collated under your financial records. Data brokers could even have information on any traffic violations, misdemeanors, arrest warrants, and criminal records you may have. The information they could collate has no boundaries. And if you are concerned about your online privacy, taking action to remove your records from these databases should become a priority.
How do I remove my data from data brokers and aggregators?
There are effective steps you can now take to remove your records from data brokers and aggregators. Options available could vary and can include filling forms, sending email requests as well as calling customer services.
We will take you through different types of data brokers and the actions you can take with 3 examples.
#1 Opt-out of people search sites
People search sites are data aggregators that collate personal information to provide background screenings and reverse lookups for various purposes. Therefore, their services could, in fact, be quite useful. These can include screening of tenants and new employees and helping you to look up any suspicious individuals or track a long-lost relative.
Most legitimate and reputed people search sites will allow you to opt-out from their databases. Nuwber, for example, allows you to remove your profile in 2 easy steps. You can first type in your name and click search to find your profile page. Then copy the URL, paste it in the Opt-out of Nuwber page and submit your request.
#2 Opt-out of advertising data brokers
These sites collate data and organize and segregate them so that they can profile you based on factors such as your age, gender, geographic location, and income level. These data are then used or sold to third parties for marketing and advertising purposes. This allows marketers to target specific advertisements based on your unique profile. And these data brokers can collect information from your social media profiles, subscription signups, online purchase behaviors, and even online search activities.
However, most of these data brokers will also provide you with the option to opt-out from their databases. Acxiom, for example, provides a detailed opt-out form for you to select which details you would like to remove. You can choose to have your address, email address and/or your contact numbers removed from their records. And in addition to your profile, you can also request them to remove the profile of a deceased relative or someone you have legal guardianship of.
#3 Hire an online privacy service provider
There are several companies that offer online privacy services by removing your records stored with data brokers and aggregators at a fee. Companies such as PrivacyDuck and DeleteMe provide several packages at different price levels so that you can choose what is best for you. Although it could be costly, this is a convenient way to remove your data from several data brokers at once. It could help save you time without having to approach each broker individually. This is also a reliable way to wipe out your data and protect your online privacy.
If you are genuinely concerned about what personal information is available and stored online, you can use these steps to protect your data. However, you should also take measures to prevent more data from accumulating online. So, think twice before you share or comment on social media and online forums, and even when signing up for that free subscription.