Do you know where your personal information is on the Internet?

  The amount of data on the Internet is staggering.

As consumers of online services, we create information through our use of social media, online shopping, and many other activities. Public records are also a source of information about individuals, which can get posted online. It is important to be aware that once this data is online, that can be difficult to remove. 

Your habits and tolerance for risk can change over time. The information that you felt comfortable sharing publicly a few years ago may seem like information that you’d now rather take back. 

Below are some considerations on how to take ownership and control the data about you.

See what information about you is available online.
It can sometimes be shocking how much information is collected about you and publicly available. The search engines will help you to do a quick query of your public information. You can also take a proactive approach to set up alerts for search terms of your name.

Data service sites such as Spokeo and Pipl have massive amounts of data compiled from a variety of sources, including public records and social networking sites about individuals. This data can be used by credit issuers, criminal profilers, employers, and others for any number of purposes, not necessarily intended by the data service providers.

Clean up the data you can control.
Information under your control includes information you have posted:
  • Content on your social networking profiles.
  • Information about you on old blog postings.
  • Postings on a friend’s website.
  • Old dating profile information.
  • Picture sharing accounts.
  • Other services useful at a point in time for you, but no longer necessary.

Take action to review the accounts you have access to. You basically have three options:
  1. Remove the data.
  2. Modify the privacy settings.
  3. Request that the account be deleted (rather than deactivated) and first remove all data.
Request cleanup of data you do not control.
Contact site owners. If the site does not have contact information for the site owners easily visible, you can look it up using the “WHOIS” service to give you an administrative and technical contact for the site. A “WHOIS” query can be done by visiting the website

Opt out of data service providers. The data service provider is a company or group that will provide lists of contact information to individuals or companies who request it. They often charge a fee for this information. In many cases, data service providers provide individuals with the ability to opt out of having their data published. It is important to remember that these services are aggregators, meaning that the original source provider of the information will also be contacted to remove your information. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse publishes the opt-out URL for over 240 of these types of services. 

The best course of action you can take is to be aggressive about maintaining a cycle of checking your public data and removing items that do not match your current risk tolerance.

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