Those of us who are dedicated to removing our personal information from the Internet know that this effort is a constant battle. Experts in this field estimate that there are hundreds of relevant people search engines alone, and when you include the smaller sites that seem to pop up each week, the numbers could be in the thousands. Public records like property tax information, marriage licenses, and vehicle information are collected by the largest data brokers on each of us. That information gets combined with social media information, phone records, and marketing data that you provide to companies and gets pushed into the system to make up your “digital profile”. Everyday new data about us is collected, combined, shared, stolen, or leaked across the Internet. I have written about many ways we can take back control over that situation in the interest of protecting our personal information and for privacy reasons. Today I want to discuss some tools you can use to help you find where your information is listed online.
A person should be in the habit of constantly searching for places that expose their personal information in order to identify where it can be removed and to be aware of what vulnerabilities exist. Becoming proficient at finding open source information and using many of the free tools available for hunting this data is important to this endeavor. Simply stated – the more you learn about finding information, the more it will help you target your own information. For that reason alone, I encourage privacy enthusiasts to sharpen their online investigation skills. Entire books have been dedicated to teaching these methods, and later in this article I will mention some of the live and online courses that are available to those who want to explore this topic in more detail. For now, here are some basic tips and free tools to help get you started with stalking yourself and others. Happy hunting.
Targeted Google Searching:
When you Google, don’t search in the traditional way buy simply typing your name into the search field. Instead, add quotes to whatever you are searching to tell Google to search exactly that information. Examples are as follows:
By putting the name in quotes, you are asking Google to return only the results with “John Smith”, in that exact order, and with both “John” and “Smith” in the results. You can target you name even further by typing the following into the search field.
“John Smith” “street address”
“John Smith” “your state”
“John Smith” “your phone number”
“John Smith” “police”
“John Smith” your city”
The possibilities are many, and this may not be new information to more seasoned online researchers. If you haven’t searched your information using “quotes”, you will quickly find more relevant results on your specific information. These results are what Google knows about you, so be sure to look at any relevant link and target it for removal efforts if you can.
People search engines:
There are many popular people search engines that may display results with your personal information. A quick way to search the most popular of these is to use the real name search tool at IntelTechniques.com. Go here and choose the real name search tool. From the menu on the left. You can enter your name and then click on “populate all”. From this page you can submit your name to many of the most popular people search engines, or “submit all” at the bottom of the page and search your name across all of them at once.
Other search tools:
Inteltechniques.com has an abundance of search tools to help you target your name, address, phone number, social media accounts, and more. Take time to explore the search options available there and make a habit of targeting your own information on a regular basis. These free tools will save you time and reveal search results that you may not have found using less advanced searching methods. I use these tools to target my own information on a monthly basis to help identify any opportunities to remove information when I find it. Over time, you will find yourself less often and that is victory for privacy.
If you want to explore more advanced methods for searching your information and conducting online investigations, consider using Buscador. Buscador is an OSINT Linux Virtual Machine that is pre-configured for online investigations. It was developed by David Westcott and Michael Bazzell, and distributions are maintained on this page. Instructions to install the Virtual Machine on any operating system are included, which will guide you through the step-by-step process. The free tools mentioned above are included with this installation along with many other investigative resources.
Additionally, a complete online video training series is available here if you have a desire to learn OSINT skills for your profession or personal use. This is a self-paced, comprehensive training course for the beginner and advanced investigator alike. There is no better training course available in my opinion, worth every dollar and amount of time spent studying the material.
Hopefully you make a habit of stalking yourself online to identify what the Internet knows about you. The tools I mentioned will save you time and identify more than you may have found otherwise. Happy hunting!