A week ago, I–Sarah Downey, an attorney and privacy analyst at Abine–posted a reddit thread as LawyerCT on how to remove yourself from the background check site BeenVerified, as well as a few others. I was sick of people search websites making it hard for people to delete themselves, so I figured I’d share my tips and ask the reddit community to spread the word.
And spread the word they did. The user Pibbman added to what I had started to create a second thread, titled “HOW TO: Remove yourself from ALL background check websites. Thanks to LawyerCT.” It made it to the front page of reddit, and since then it’s been popping up everywhere, including a LifeHacker article by Melanie Pinola. I’m thrilled to raise awareness of a major privacy issue, and I’m including the same info on our privacy blog at Abine to help the cause.
A little background on myself: I’m a DeleteMe expert here at Abine. I’m an attorney and a privacy advocate, and I spend a lot of time deleting people’s contact information from people search websites like MyLife, Intelius, and Spokeo.
But I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with these sites. They get your information through public record sources, like birth certificates, real estate purchase and sale records, lawsuits, and marriage licenses–for free–and then they stockpile it, post it for the world to see, and sell it. They argue that they’re simply reposting public record info that already exists for anyone to access, but I disagree. They’re doing something completely different: they’re making all of our contact info more visible and more accessible than ever before. It’s not public record anymore; it’s super public. There’s a big difference between A), physically walking down to a courthouse and asking for a copy of a legal filing so you can find someone’s name and address from it, and B), Googling it from your couch.
I hear from people with stalkers, a history of domestic abuse, a vindictive ex, or just a general interest in staying private. Having their contact information so readily available isn’t just annoying; it’s dangerous. Getting it removed shouldn’t be as confusing and time-consuming as it currently is.
Lawmakers need to recognize that the super-public nature of these people search sites has strayed too far from our original concept of “public record,” and everything needs to be opt-in by default. If these companies want to profit off the facts that makes us who we are–our names, ages, birth dates, addresses, and family members–we should have a say in that. And if we decide that it’s okay, we should see a cut of that profit. At the very least, these sites should have one uniform, simple, clearly-displayed opt-out method.
But until this happens, the burden is on us to play cat-and-mouse with these companies: we follow their convoluted rules and delete ourselves; they try to find us again. DeleteMe will do it for you if you want to save yourself the time, but if you’d rather do it yourself, see below for full instructions. Using privacy apps in your browser that prevent tracking, like DoNotTrackPlus, and masked emails, like MaskMe, will also help safeguard your information. And if keeping your contact information private is important to you, please keep spreading the word to anyone you care about.
In Part 2, I’ll discuss how these companies get your information in the first place, what you can do about it, and how you can better protect yourself.
And without further ado, here is Pibbman’s reddit post:
I decided to go ahead and use this list to collect removal procedures from ALL of these websites and provide direct links or instructions to do so.
The following list was provided as being the “big boys”, so if you remove your name from these ones then all the smaller “sites” should fall afterwards.
How to remove yourself from each of these have been listed below. I would recommend that you scan some form of ID such as a state issued ID like a drivers license. Black out your picture and drivers number. Leaving your name, address and DOB visible. Any sites that requires such a thing will have an * after the address.
Intelius.com* – Opt-out
Acxiom.com – Opt-out
MyLife.com – To request that a Member Profile or Public Profile be deleted, please contact Customer Care at 1-888-704-1900 or contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Upon receipt of these requests, and confirmation that you are requesting that your own profile be removed, please allow MyLife 10 business days to complete this removal. It may be necessary to contact you to validate that you are the profile owner requesting the removal. This is to ensure the correct identity and profile ownership before completing these requests, and is for the protection of our users and their privacy.
Zabasearch.com* – Opt-out
Spokeo.com – Opt-out
BeenVerified.com – LawyerCT’s guide
Peekyou.com – Opt-Out
USSearch.com* – Opt-Out
PeopleFinders.com – Opt-Out: Annoying form you have to mail in
PeopleLookup.com* – In order for PeopleLookup to suppress or opt out your personal information from appearing on our Website, we need to verify your identity. To do this, we require faxed proof of identity. Proof of identity can be a state issued ID card or driver’s license. If you are faxing a copy of your driver’s license, we require that you cross out the photo and the driver’s license number. We only need to see the name, address and date of birth. We will only use this information to process your opt out request. Please fax to 425-974-6194 and allow 4 to 6 weeks to process your request.
PeopleSmart.com – Opt-Out
PrivateEye.com – Opt-Out
Whitepages.com – Opt-Out
USA-People-Search.com – Opt-Out: Yet another form to mail in
PublicRecordsNow.com – Still determining how to remove…
DOBSearch.com* – In order for us to “opt out” your public information from being viewable on the public DOBsearch People Finder search results, we need to verify your identity and require faxed proof of identity. Proof of identity can be a state issued ID card or driver’s license, or notarized letter. If you are faxing a copy of your driver’s license, you may cross out the photo and the driver’s license number. We only need to see the name, address and date of birth. Please fax to 516-717-3017 and allow 4 to 6 weeks to completely process your request. It is your responsibility to ensure legibility of your document
Radaris.com – Opt-Out; Thanks to those who figured it out.