Intellius.com, Acxiom.com., MyLife.com, BeenVerified.com, Peekyou.com. USSearch.com, DOBSearch.com, Spoke.com, PrivateEye.com, Whitepages.com, Radaris.com—what do all of these websites have in common? You. They’ve got you. That is, your personal information, including where you live, your phone number, your date of birth, your relationship status, your likes and dislikes, your family relations and more. Where do they get it? They glean it from public records, such as real estate records, wills and testaments and other things you can get off the Internet or from courthouses. But they also get it from places where you give it up freely, such as Facebook and Twitter, marketing surveys and other services, sites, apps and products that harvest your information.
As someone who spent two years working for a private investigation firm, I can confirm that it’s fairly easy to build a reasonable profile of a person without breaking the law or having a badge—even more so now that your most intimate details are shared on social networking sites. If I had to compare the information I learned about people by reading the court documents from their divorce case versus what some of you people put on your Facebook walls, I’d be hard pressed to say which is more revealing and/or humiliating. But on that same token, I can tell you that oftentimes, the information that shows up in background checks can be dead wrong. Because at the end of the day, robots do a lot of the harvesting and aggregating.
So, let’s say a dude who has the same first and last name as you and a similar Social Security number as you ends up wreaking havoc in a town where you used to go to business school. If the investigator on your case doesn’t do his due diligence, it could mean that you’re prospective employer or landlord may have some seriously pointed questions for you. That is if they give you the benefit of the doubt at all.
That’s why it’s in your best interest to take control of the information that these data peddlers are accumulating and sharing. Whether it’s an erroneously entered tax lien that you worked out with the IRS over the phone but never got expunged or if it’s a clerical error that pegged you as a convicted sex offender, you want to make sure that anyone who does a background check on you doesn’t get the wrong idea, be it the government, an employer or someone who’s just too nosy for their own good.
Enter unlistmy.info. Unlistmy.info is a well-designed website created by Redditor cbiaz that guides you through the process of opting out of many of the worst information mongers on the web. The website pulls together some great advice from another Redditor, LawyerCT, who works for Abine, an online privacy startup.
Unlistmy.info gives you easy instructions for 17 (and counting) websites that collect, buy and sell your personal information.
Overall, I think it’s a good cause, and certainly something that we should all be aware of. However, the best medicine, of course, is prevention—be careful with what you share about yourself and with whom you share it!
[Featured image by Mirta Rotondo]