You’ll need some background on our DeleteMe service for the following post to make sense: our service deletes your personal information from many of the largest people search websites that list it. These are sites like Intelius.com, Spokeo.com, and WhitePages.com. We monitor your personal information online to ensure that it doesn’t return, and we compile this information in a PDF report that we send to you via email every 3 months. The service covers you for an entire year and costs $99.
Here’s the inside story of what transpired when BeenVerified.com continued to repost personal information that our customers had requested be deleted.
You know the anger we all have against telemarketers? Well, people search websites are like telemarketers, but of a far greater magnitude: they post your private information online for everyone to see, and they sell it to whoever’s buying. There’s been a groundswell of opposition to these data brokers, or as they’re referred to these days, people search websites.
After a 2011 Consumers Union poll found that 80% of surveyed respondents were “concerned that companies may be sharing their personal information with third parties without their permission,” HearUsNow.org launched a public initiative in September of 2011 to encourage individuals to contact their congressional representatives about people search sites. 94% of adults ages 45-54 think there should be a law that requires websites and advertising companies to delete all stored information about an individual.
BeenVerified.com, one of the people search websites from which we remove our customers’ personal info when they order our DeleteMe subscription, kept re-posting “deleted” listings. We saw it time and time again, so we reported them on behalf of you, our customers, to the FTC. You can download our complaint here.
Our customers have privacy concerns for all sorts of reasons. Some have had their identities stolen. Some are law enforcement officers who want to protect themselves from convicts who have sworn to come after them when they get out of prison. Others have dangerous exes who try to make their lives miserable. Others have stalkers. Most of them simply want to be left alone.
The fact that your deleted information can be re-populated in rare cases shows us how important services like DeleteMe really are. For most people, having to stay on top of your personal information all the time is just too difficult a task. Trust us–we know it firsthand. You should see the piles of letters we send out of here, the numbers of CAPTCHAs we type, our absurdly high eFax bills…and that’s not taking into account that people search companies are always changing their opt-out policies and mailing addresses. But services like DeleteMe actually do work. What isn’t workable, sustainable, or legal, however, are companies reversing repeated requests to remove personal data.
We publicly post instructions for how you can delete your information from these sites yourself, but many people still choose to have us do it for them. And we understand why: very few people have both the free time and the knowledge required to decipher convoluted privacy policies and opt-out procedures, let alone vigilantly check and re-check multiple people search sites. It’s a full-time job, and you have to stay on top of it. But you have jobs, kids, bills, Facebook accounts, emails to return, dogs to walk–you have lives. It’s unreasonable to expect the average person to crack the crazy code that is the people search industry.
The best solution to the personal information problems posed by people search companies is a one-stop “unlist me” website, something like the Do Not Call Registry: you’d go, click a button to state that you wanted your personal info removed from all the sites that are selling and displaying it, and that’d be it. Presto. And that’s precisely what we asked the FTC to create in our complaint about BeenVerified. Of course the people search companies hate this idea, because it’d dry up their source of money: your data.
Let us be clear: there are some limitations. As we’ve seen with BeenVerified, sometimes companies don’t follow their own removal rules (but we quickly catch them). We also cannot delete your name by itself. The fact that you were born with a certain name is on your birth certificate, your driver’s license, and more. It’s part of the public record, and we can’t wave a giant Men in Black flashy thing in front of the internet and make your name go poof.
When someone orders a DeleteMe subscription, we delete their contact information from this list of 18 people search databases. This list, which we compile and maintain ourselves, represents the largest sellers of your data. They’re the big players. They supply hundreds of smaller sites, too, so when we delete you from the big sites, we’re deleting you from the small sites as well. Our service is the most comprehensive on the market: none of our competitors even come close to our success rate, and none of them cover the large number of sites that we do.
Until we have a one-stop “unlist me” registry, a DeleteMe subscription is the next best thing. It’s not perfect, but it goes a long way to protect your information (and we have the testimonials of happy customers to prove it)!
Learn how you can take action against people search websites and spread the word about the danger they present to your friends and family by visiting our informational site about the people search industry, and check out journalist Julia Angwin’s Wall Street Journal article about the subject. You’ll find out how to make your own FTC complaint online, file a dispute with TRUSTe, tell your state’s Attorney General, and more.
About Abine: Abine provides consumers with online privacy solutions that are innovative, easy to use, and actually work. With proven tools, Abine enables people to both benefit from the Web and retain control over their most personal information. Abine is backed by premier venture capital firms Atlas Ventures and General Catalyst Partners. Abine: The Online Privacy Company ™. Abine.com.