In a previous article I discussed how people who qualify as a public official or law enforcement officer can reference State laws in their letters to data brokers and people search websites to assist them with removing their personal information. If you are a qualified individual who can utilize these laws to help achieve faster compliance and more advanced opt-outs, I encourage you to articulate this in the letters and emails you send to companies who are exposing your personal information. A professionally prepared letter that references these laws, and your need to be removed due to safety reasons has proven to be very effective.
For everyone else, a letter that references the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) can be equally as effective at achieving opt-outs and removals from some of the more stubborn people search sites. I first mentioned the COPPA in my post about Removal Letters (link). This act was passed by congress in 1998, and the law makes it illegal for a website to knowingly display any personal information about children under the age of 13. This is one reason you see many social networks enforce an age limit. You can use this to your advantage. If you have a child under the age of 13 in your home, this may be a way to force websites to remove your information.
An example of how this can be used is with the website reasearch.com. This new people search website displays accurate current and historical address results on many people living in the U.S. Search your information to see if you are listed there. If so, there is an OPT-OUT link at the bottom of the page which allows you to remove the URL associated with your results from being displayed. Easy.
The problem is once you have completed the opt-out, you can again search your name. The search results will again display your name and address(s). If you click on your name, the results will show the URL is no longer active (due to the opt-out), but the search results page still shows your information. This can be a problem because search engines like Google may index that page of search results, and also because the search results page displays full addresses.
You can take your opt-out of this site a step further by sending an email to the company and individuals responsible for displaying your personal information and by referencing the COPPA in the email you send.
Credit goes to “Privacy-Focused”, a member of the IntelTechniques.com online Forum for the following email which proved to be very effective at removing all the associated search results from research.com. This is a great example of how you can articulate that a website has violated the COPPA and request immediate compliance by removing your personal information.
Research.com / Vehiclehistory.com
To whom it may concern,
It has come to my attention that your website (https://www.research.com) was utilized by an attacker to obtain personal information about me that was used maliciously against my family. This action led to the identification of telephone numbers used by a child under the age of 13 and your website (https://www.research.com) associates that with the child’s home address.
This is a violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
Due to this exposure, my child has been received numerous solicitations from online predators in the form of anonymous packages sent to our residence and illicit messages. I have already submitted an opt out removal request following the steps listed at your website. However, your search results are still displaying my Personally Identifiable Information (PII) including my full name and address. Continued exposure of this on your website is putting my family in great danger. I have attached a photo which clearly outlines my exposure on your website.
Direct URL(s) of personal information online:
Thank you for your help with this matter.
For this particular website, you would send an email to the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
When I customized the above letter to suit my needs, the search results on my name were removed within a few hours. I think this is an excellent example of how a civilian can use the COPPA to their advantage to achieve a removal beyond the scope of what most people achieve. I have used the COPPA on many occasions to achieve similar results on other websites.
A law enforcement officer has laws that make removal of their personal information easier with a carefully articulated email or letter. The same strategy and results may be achieved by civilians if they choose to use the COPPA to their advantage as described above. My advice is always to prepare your written communication in a professional manner, and be prepared to follow up when necessary. I wish you all the best of luck as you explore this tactic in your quest for privacy!