Your Personal Details Are Online. What Now?

Not how to protect your identity online.

Your Deets

You found your address on some data mining site. Now what?

If you want to live a normal life–get married, register to vote, rent or buy an apartment or judge your old high school friends on Facebook, you can’t completely avoid having your personal information surface on data mining sites.

We spoke to Joe Sutton, the manager of the DeleteMe department at Abine, an online privacy company, about social media, public records, and the give and take of life online.

DeleteMe helps with the management, monitoring, and removal of personal information from a large number of data broker or data mining sites as well as people search sites in the US.

Uncubed: What sort of personal information that shows up online are customers most concerned about?

Joe Sutton: Home address and age. For address, it seems to be split between people who are worried about their safety and people they do not want to find their location and people with general privacy concerns who are not happy about anyone just being able to pull up their home address for any reason. For age, we have a lot of people who are trying to re-enter the workforce who are concerned their age may be a factor in their chances of procuring a new job.

There are a number of reasons why a customer would want to be concerned. We have lots of customers who have experienced stalking issues, are victims of domestic violence, etc. who are very fearful of being found and are concerned for their safety and the well-being of their family and self. For a person who does not have these issues, it is more for privacy concerns of knowing that at any time you can be located, your information can be added to lists of information for sale to marketers and things of that nature.

It seems like data mining sites have begun to concern consumers only recently. Have they been around for awhile and users are just noticing, or is the problem getting worse?

Data mining sites have indeed been around for a long time and in my experience (I have been doing this for a little more than four years now) people are only now starting to realize it. With more news stories and word of mouth, more and more people seem to be searching for themselves and being made aware of their online footprint and then go looking for solutions and removal information.

How do data mining website get the information they sell and display?

The information these sites post is largely taken from public records, which at this time are not, unfortunately, illegal to post. This means any time a person does something to create this sort of data–register to vote, renew a license, marriage/divorce, buy property, etc. these sites can access and then populate their databases with [that information]. Another source of this information would be from data created by a person unknowingly via actions they perform online. Signing up for social media, using online shopping sites, creating accounts with services, and things of this nature usually require a person to agree to terms of use/terms of service, which often time will have in them that your data can be used/sold, etc.

How can we protect ourselves when shopping online?

Using an online shopping site safely can be tricky. The best thing to do is to read the terms of use, terms of service and privacy policy on any site that you are using to see if and what type of data they are retaining about you and where they may use it. Using a program like Blur (an Albine service) that allows for masked credit card payments and proxy emails will hide your payment information and email address, which will significantly limit the amount of information about you they will have access to.

How much personal information do social media sites share with data mining websites?

For social media sites, they can share your names, age, location, and largely what type of information you are interested in, so it can be sold to agencies to pitch your products and services.

Are there ways to protect your personal information and still be on social media sites?

As for protection, you can set information to private, you can put minimal information down, however, if you are using social media you are largely opening yourself up to having your information being passed around. It is, unfortunately, a give and take and a person would need to decide if having social media accounts was worth it to them knowing more information would be put out there due to these accounts.


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