Today, there are numerous databases and search engines being filled with our personal data, and it’s now common for people to look up this information online. Here are some tips for getting your personal information deleted from the internet 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 marketing companies, and then reselling the information in a convenient package. They collect public records like real estate transactions, arrest records, court cases, marriages, divorces, etc. and combine it with online data gleaned from web pages. This information can be purchased 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.
Note that 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.
Removing Personal Information From Search Engines
If you search on someone’s name, you can find a surprising amount information about them on Google and other search engines. Removing this information is often difficult. Most requests for changes to result engine results 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 webpage. Indeed, this often the easiest route in my experience.
If you have money to spare, a company called Reputation will attempt to obliterate any unwanted search engine results for you. They accomplish this by creating more flattering web pages, and attempting to make them the top results. 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.
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 this 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.