Spokeo, BeenVerified, WhitePages, InstantCheckMate. Do these names sound familiar? Probably not. But market research companies like this probably know more about you than your own friends or family.
Not convinced? Google your name and you may be shocked at what you find – previous and current addresses, phone numbers, age, financial history – all out in the open for everyone to see, on dozens of websites you’ve probably never heard of. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. These websites, known as data brokers, collect, share, and sell private information for the vast majority of the population, all without anyone’s consent. You’d think this must be illegal; surely no one has the right to use your personal data without permission. However, with a little research, you’ll confirm for yourself that there’s no law prohibiting data collection. In fact, the data broker industry is thriving from year to year, and has generated over $200 billion in revenue this year alone, all from selling everyone’s personal data without consent. Worse still, data brokers often expand their unscrupulous practices to include your friends and family, and collect data about them too; including private information about children and minors.
Why do data brokers collect your private data?
Marketing purposes. Legitimate businesses routinely purchase customer records from data brokers in order to target their advertising. The more a company knows about a customer’s interests, the better they can promote specific products to you, which in turn, leads to increased sales and repeat business.
People search. Personal information can be found for most every US citizen via a simple Google name search. When used as intended, it can be a wonderful way to find a long lost friend or relative just by searching their name, however, duplicitous people can find that same information too, and their intentions aren’t always honorable.
How does all this impact your life?
Your data may fall into the wrong hands, with disastrous results. 51 million searches for specific individuals occur each month, and odds are, someone has already been snooping around for details about you. One never knows who’s sitting on the other side of that computer screen, peering into your life without your consent. Could it be your ex? An employer? A colleague? Scammers? There’s just no way to tell. But one thing you can count on, is the more data brokers know about you, the better they can predict your behavior and actions.
Derogatory personal data can ruin your career. More and more employers are searching the Internet for information about new hires before making a final decision to offer you a job. With the advent of digital technology, your reputation has become ubiquitous, permanent, and available worldwide – whether you like it or not. Data brokering is a volume business, and information packages about individuals typically sell for a couple dollars. In return for this modest investment, employers receive a variety of information, including, criminal records, liens, judgments, bankruptcies, foreclosures, professional licenses, permits, and much more.
Your kids could be at risk. Younger generations are typically more adept at using technology, and welcome new ways of doing things. They use Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and create personal profiles on an array of websites without truly understanding the implications of what they’re doing. Federal law prohibits unfair or deceptive internet practices with regard to the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information about children under the age of 13, however, that doesn’t prevent data brokers from collecting information about your kids anyway, then claiming the privacy breach occurred inadvertently.
How can you protect yourself from data brokers?
Discuss online safety with your kids early. If your child is old enough to surf the net, then they’re old enough to learn how to go about it safely. Have these discussions often, and teach your children at an early age about the importance of maintaining their online privacy.
Never post actual addresses, telephone numbers, or personally identifiable information on social networks or while creating a free account to get a coupon or discount. Instead, be creative and write something witty in the About section of your favorite social profile, otherwise, you’ll just make life easy for unscrupulous data brokers who want to learn everything they can about you, and potentially use it against you.
If you find your personal details have been posted on a people-search website, you can use our free step-by-step instructions to remove these records yourself.
But if that task seems too daunting, then enlist the help of an online privacy service like OneRep.com, who can do these removals on your behalf, saving you time, energy and needless frustration. If you subscribe to their service, OneRep can remove your personal data from more than 60 people search websites, including Google, Yahoo and Bing.
Rest assured, once your personal data is available online, somebody will find a use for it; and that’s not necessarily a good thing. That’s why it’s best to start maintaining your online privacy now!
Disclaimer: I have teamed up with OneRep.com in support of this campaign. We received games for participation in this campaign. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.