Many people search websites and data brokers offer a convenient online method to opt-out of having your personal information displayed on their site. Usually this is a form which can be completed by providing only an email address for verification purposes. You will need to click a verification link sent to your email for the removal to be processed. I recommend using a disposable email (Mailinator) or an alias email address (33Mail) that you created just for this purpose when completing these online removal forms. Usually, you will also need to copy/paste the URL of the profile that you found on that particular website into a field on the form so that the webmaster knows exactly which record to remove. Find your profile by searching your name, copy the URL from the browser’s address bar and paste that URL into the removal form when asked for it.
An example of a website that has a simple removal process like I just described is Spokeo (http://www.spokeo.com/opt_out/new). Many others you will run across have a similar removal or opt-out process in place.
The various types of online forms vary from website to website, but the information you need to provide to complete your removals is pretty standard. Some public data brokers are listed here as more examples of some of these types of forms. Removing your information from these large data brokers is very beneficial.
The links I have provided in this post are certainly not every directory that may contain information about you. They are examples, and you should conduct a more thorough search for your records at other websites and data brokers, including ancestry records. For a more complete list you can reference the links at Privacy-Training (https://privacy-training.com/links.html), Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (https://www.privacyrights.org/online-information-brokers-list), or others listed at my Resources page.
Occasionally you will be required to provide a written explanation for your opt-out request. This inconvenient ‘hoop to jump through’ is well worth doing if your goal is to do a thorough job. For example, CIS Nationwide explains their requirements for removal requests HERE. Most of the other companies that require a letter to be submitted will have similar requirements and they will provide an address to send your written request.
Law Enforcement personnel and public officials should include their employment status in their letter because some companies are more likely grant removal requests from these qualifying individuals. Often you are asked to provide a copy of your Drivers License for verification as well. You can send in a “redacted” copy of your ID for this purpose. Scan or make a copy of your ID and then use a black marker or image editing program to cover up the photograph on your ID. Also cover up your license number, expiration date, and any other details that are listed. The ONLY information that is needed for this verification is your name, address, and date of birth.
When writing your letter, be sure to include all of the information that is asked form in the instructions. Providing incomplete information may result in your request for removal being denied and the company is under no obligation to notify you of this denial. Keep your letter simple and to the point. I offer the following example of a removal request letter. You can can modify this to suit your needs based on the website’s requirements and your situation. In the past for example, I have modified the language to articulate a more urgent need for removal. Always be professional and polite with your requests.
To whom it may concern,
I would like to opt-out of having my personal information available to be searched in your data base and have it removed from any affiliate websites as well. Specifically, my information can be found here (http://infopages.com/people/example-John-Smith)
I am a law enforcement officer, and my job exposes me to the threat of death or serious bodily harm. I am making this request per Texas Government Code, Section 552.117.
Below is my personal information for your reference to assist with this removal request.
Previous addresses include:
Attached to this fax is a redacted copy of my state issued driver’s license per the instructions on your website. Thank you for any help you can provide. Please feel free to contact me via email with any questions regarding this request.
As I mentioned previously, citing the Government Code section that may apply to your profession will help. I have never been asked to verify this information any further by any company. Certain States already have law in place to assist law enforcement and public officials with protecting their personal information. See my previous post (HERE) for more details and check with your State if it is not listed.
Additionally, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) may be useful when articulating your need for a removal request. Below is an excerpt from the CP&S DR which explains this law and how it may be used in a removal request.
COPPA is an act passed by congress in 1998 which can be found in its entirety online. It was created to place parents in control over what information is collected from their young children online. The Rule was designed to protect children under age 13 while accounting for the dynamic nature of the internet. The Rule applies to operators of commercial websites and online services directed to children under 13 that collect, use, or disclose personal information from children, and it applies to operators of general audience websites or online services with actual knowledge that they are collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children under 13. Basically, it 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. Let me explain by providing two different scenarios.
“It has come to my attention that your website displays information that identifies a cellular telephone number used by a child under the age of 13 and associates the number with the child’s home address. This is a violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). I request that the following information be removed from your database immediately.”
I recommend saving a copy of your removal letters to use and modify for use with other websites in the future. Once you have a good template you can easily change it to fit your needs at the time or the specific requirements of a particular website or company. While you await the conformation that your removal was completed, you can also bookmark the URL to quickly check the status and and see if the information has been removed. When you see a “no results found”, or “404 Error”, or similar message in your browser when checking that link, you will know that the company has removed your information from being displayed. In time (usually within 30 days), search engines will not index those pages anymore and fewer and fewer results will be found across the Internet as you search your name.
Removal efforts can be time consuming, especially when doing a thorough job. The results are well worth the time it takes though and your level of privacy is greatly improved when you simply can’t be located in public and non-public data bases. Everyone will decide for themselves to what extent they want to take their removal efforts. Hopefully this post provided some guidance for those of you who want to take it to another level and invest some time in this endeavor. As always, if you encounter specific challenges along the way, feel free to contact me with questions. I always enjoy hearing about your success and helping in any way that I can.