Based on my experience, many of you will be successful at removing most, if not all of your personal information from the Internet. You will need patience, due diligence, and a willingness to learn how “the system” works and the many methods that are available to keep your information hidden from public sources. By changing your habits you can keep your personal details hidden and enjoy being invisible with a much higher level of security and protection from data breaches and those that could harm you physically or through exploiting your identify.
Some people will find that some of their information is extremely difficult or impossible to get removed. The media is an example of this. If you are a Public Information Officer (PIO) for your agency, or for whatever reason your name has appeared in a news article, there is a good chance that you will forever be associated with that article or event because your name was referenced in the story. I know police officers who seek out opportunities to speak to the media and make “public” comments to reporters. I will never be that guy.
Recently, I helped a colleague of mine remove their personal information from hundreds of different databases. After several months, search results for that person were almost non existent. Most importantly, his home address was now hidden from public and private databases across the Internet. His name however, still appeared in several news articles where had had been quoted, in connection with work he had done with his agency. While this did not present as much of a threat to his safety as having his home address available online, he will most likely never be able to remove or redact his name from the media. In addition to what I just described, you may also run in to websites or companies that simply do not cooperate with your requests to opt-out of having your personal information displayed at their website.
Once you have removed everything you can and still find current personal details about yourself online, there is another strategy you can take to make it more difficult for someone to find you. A disinformation campaign.
Disinformation refers to disseminating deliberately false information. Disinformation is sometimes confused with misinformation but the two are distinguished by their intention. The purpose of disinformation is to deceive. Although misinformation is also false, it is presented as truth only because the communicator does not have the facts straight. When you spread disinformation about yourself, your intention is to deceive someone.
By introducing false information about yourself into “the system”, you can add that false data to databases that publicly display your personal information. If enough false information is displayed while a person is searching for you, they will have a very difficult time determining what is and what is not accurate about you. For people who have a unique name, disinformation may be very effective at hiding your true details. To find out how many people in the U.S. share your same name, you can go here.
For example; if someone searched for your relatively unique name and found 30 people in your geographic area with that same name, that would make their subsequent research more difficult and time consuming. If you had successfully removed all of your true data from those search results, the searcher (or attacker) would then be chasing a lot of false leads. Or if a search on your suspected address (Spokeo for example) showed 30 people with different names living at your home address, that would also be an effective use of address disinformation.
As you can see, you can provide disinformation about your true name or your address. The most effective strategy would be to do both, and maybe even your phone number. But what is the best way to issue disinformation into the system? How do we put false information out there and have it populate into databases and search engines to help obscure our true information? Understanding how databases work and where the information comes from is the key. We already know that whenever you provide your personal information to a company, in most cases it will be traded and sold to a number of other companies for marketing and profiling purposes. Data is data. Whether is it true date or false data, the same thing happens.
Choose a company that offers to send you a free catalog periodically. Examples are Victoria’s Secret, Cabelas, Sears, Omaha Steaks, and the list just goes on and on. There is no shortage of companies who would love to send you a free catalog. Go to their website, and find the area where you can request a catalog mailing. Enter an alias name (nothing similar to your true name) and enter your true physical address. The catalog will arrive at your home with a mailing label that shows your alias name. Soon you will begin receiving other marketing material under that same name from affiliated companies or companies that have received your alias name and address from the original catalog you ordered. In my experience, within about 6 months, public databases like Spokeo will begin to display your alias name associated with your address. Multiply that effort a dozen times with different companies, and you will have issued a lot of disinformation about your name. Databases will eventually reflect this and don’t be surprised if you even receive a “welcome to the neighborhood” marketing package at your home address under one of your alias names one day. That is a good thing if your goal was to make it appear like someone else (or multiple people) live at your home address.
The same can be done with targeting your address with disinformation. When an opportunity presents itself to provide your true name and an alias address, take that opportunity to spread disinformation. Provide your true name and a false address and telephone number when signing up for a retail loyalty card or when you get your oil changed at a big chain service center. Online surveys will also collect a great deal of information about you. Take the time to participate in a few surveys (swagbucks.com), or sign up for free samples (www.samplesandsavings.com) and use disinformation for your name, address or telephone number. It will take months to see the results populate into people search engines and across databases, but that is how the system works.
Be sure that when providing a false address that you never give out an address that belongs to someone else. That could compromise someone else’s safety (and produce unwanted mail). Also do not use your work address, PO BOX, or any address associated to you. Use an address that does not exist but can pass scrutiny as a real address when you enter the information. One way to do this is to research new home developments in an area far from where you actually live. Find the highest assigned address listed for a new home on a street in that new community. Add a few numbers to the address and use that as your alias address. For example, if the highest address is 8732 Woodwork Street; you could use 8738 Woodwork Street as your address. This method typically passes as a real address when a company “verifies” the address in their mailing system. The address to a local homeless shelter where many people frequent and often receive mail may also work for this purpose.
In the past is was sufficient to simply remove all of your information from online databases if you wanted to make it more difficult to be found. Today, I find the best strategy is to remove all that you possibly can, and also introduce a well thought out disinformation campaign. This is only one piece of the puzzle, making yourself difficult to find online. Other methods need to be practiced and other habits need to also change to make yourself even more elusive. Again, you will ultimately decide how far you will take this journey. Another day, another new technique to being invisible. Be safe out there friends.