How To Video
How To: Take back your privacy from the data brokersOnline data brokers can make you feel naked in front of the world. Brian Cooley shows you how to opt out of their dossier on you - for now.
-If you haven't looked lately, you probably should. The data harvesting websites have only gotten sharper and better at harvesting data to make dossiers about you available to the whole world. Even the free information is kind of invasive; where you live, phone number, marital status, who you've contributed to in political campaigns, and so much more. I'm Brian Cooley with the How-to on opting out from data harvesting websites and some of the gotchas when you do so. Now, the first thing to discuss is what these sites do basically isn't illegal. They're mining public websites, public records, and databases that are all available to pretty much anyone. It just used to be hard. These sites pull it together so seeing all that information is easy. You can't do much about that, but you can opt out from the services. Let's take a look at how it's done. There are sort of 3 tiers of how you can do this. Some sites make it easy. That's tier 1. A good example of that would be Spokeo. They have a page here were you go to a form. You copy in the address of the record on you, the whole profile that you want suppressed. Give them your e-mail address and then type in the captions so they know you're a real person. Then when you submit that, they send you an e-mail back and you click on that link to confirm and they promise within 1 day that record will go away. I tried it. It actually went away immediately and that was 5 or 6 days ago and it's still down, so that worked well. A little more difficult are sites that want you to send a free form e-mail to remove address. Pikeo is an example of that. So, the address is here. It's not too hard to find in their privacy section. When I tried to click on the link though, the address was malformed and I got an error. I cleaned up the address and then I finally got an e-mail back and that was an e-mail that tell me to send an e-mail. It's getting to be a little bit of a game here. And once I filled that up, that was pretty straight forward. Now on to the third category of sites, the ones that I would term obnoxious, examples of these would be Zabasearch and Intelius. Check this out. Here's the Zabasearch instructions on how to opt out of their records. It looks like a credit card terms and condition statement. This is not fun to read. If you do at the very bottom there, you'll find a fax number. That's it. No e-mail. No phone number. A fax number where you send in a written request for suppression and a photocopy of your driver's license or State ID. Well, they do want you to cross out the picture and the ID number. And then based on that, within 4 to 6 weeks, they promise to take your record down. The only good thing about this tedious process is that they are taking you down based on name and address, your identity, as opposed to just a single URL of your record. Here's where that's important, all of these sites are dynamic. As new information about you comes out on the web, they very likely will create a new record about you at a different URL. You'll have to keep requesting these suppressions over and over as they create new unique records. It's a cat and mouse game. There's no way around that. And again, you can't stop them from recreating records from new information. This is a lesson of keeping information off the web in the first place. If it's out there, they're going to find it, so think about controlling what you put on the web in the first place. Take solace in this note as well, a lot of these records are full of junk. There was one record about me that I found that didn't have places I have lived and some that I have never lived, places I have worked and places I never worked, so these guys are kind of running their own disinformation campaign because of the inaccuracy of their data, which kind of serves to protect your enmity in a parcelled kind of backwards way. If you want links to these sites I've shown you and many others for the major data harvesters, go to the CNET TV blog and just search for data harvester. You'll find my list there. I'm Brian Cooley. Thanks for watching.