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Tattoo ink and internet ink are very similar. A lot of people are getting tattoos and putting their personal information on the internet. But, both tattoos and information on the internet are regrettably hard to remove. Even good ol’ Mark Zuckerberg is finding out the hard way that making some personal information public might be a bad idea.
Whatever the popular trend is, there will always be some people who aren’t fond of permanent identifying marks. But what can you do if you have made a few foolish mistakes in the past and you need to remove personal information from the internet? Fortunately, it is a lot less painful to remove some of your personal information from the internet than it is to remove a Mike Tyson Special.
Go To The Source
Removing private info from online profiles is an obvious first step, but there are a lot of websites that share or sell your data without your knowledge. There are ways to clean up a lot of that information too.
There are more websites that will share or sell your private data than anyone would like to count. A lot of the internet is just a big echo chamber. For every website with original content there are tons of other sites copying and repeating what was said before. If you want to take down information, focus on removing it from those sources. This narrows down your action to a few, rather than hundreds, of potential sources.
Intelius and Acxiom are two big data aggregators that are the biggest source for most other websites that share sensitive information on the internet. Removing your information from Intelius or Acxiom will effectively remove it from most other websites too. You may still want to remove personal information from other sites too, just to be on the safe side.
Contact The Sites Directly
Most sites allow you to remove data like address, phone number, and social security number. Every company has a different method and you need to follow their own procedures. They might let you do it online, they might make you do it through the mail. Lots of times they will want you to provide more personal information to prove who you are to remove your information. Here is a list of the main sites where your information might be found with a link to remove your info. You might want to check each one to see how much of your own personal information shows up.
Remove Personal Information From The Internet
Addressing The Symptom, Not The Problem
Removing information from any of these sites, even Intelius or Acxiom, is like removing an unwanted tattoo. It is much better to avoid the tattoo in the first place than to try to remove it later. Plus, there are no guarantees that you can even remove it completely. The only way to do that is to know how your information gets in those databases in the first place, and prevent it from ever showing up there.
Where Do These Sites Get All Of This Info
All of these websites collect your information from a lot of places like your online profiles (Facebook, linkedin, match.com, etc.) public records (property ownership records, court proceedings, census data, etc.) job application or rsum sites, credit reporting agencies, smartphone apps, entering a sweepstakes to get free stuff, and lots of other sources that they won’t even tell you about. Data is valuable and most organizations that get it, sell it. Selling your information is what made Mark Zuckerberg a billionaire.
Prevent Personal Information From Showing Up On The Internet
There are lots of ways to prevent information from ever showing up in these public sources, and from showing up online. The best way is to leave personal information blank whenever you are asked to provide it. When you must share information, use a ghost address, pre-paid cell phones, a business entity, and other anonymizing techniques you can find in the book How To Vanish.
Like tattoo removal, removing personal information from the internet is not perfect. Traces of your personal information online may remain for a very long time. If you already have some unwanted informational tattoos, its not too late. The sooner you get started removing personal information from the internet, the better off you will be.
Reprinted with permission from How to Vanish.
Bill Rounds, J.D. is a California attorney. He holds a degree in Accounting from the University of Utah and a law degree from California Western School of Law. He practices civil litigation, domestic and foreign business entity formation and transactions, criminal defense and privacy law. He is a strong advocate of personal and financial freedom and civil liberties.