How to get your personal data removed from people search websites

Data brokers collect your personal information and post it in public profiles. Here's how to get it removed--either on your own or via a service.

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People search and background check websites, such as Zabasearch.com and Peoplefinders.com, make their business off our personal information--our names, addresses, phone numbers, and more. It's a terrible situation where to protect our privacy we have to go through all the work of opting-out of these databases. If you want to protect your privacy (as much as possible), you can find step-by-step removal instructions or hire services to do this for you with the sources below.

A little more than a year ago, Reddit user pibbman (thanks to LawyerCT's help) posted a list of major sites that gather and sell or publish your personal information, along with links and instructions for removal. Since posting about this on Lifehacker, I've found a similar guide, which is easier to read at a glance, from privacy company Abine, as well as services that will do it for you.

With the DIY method, you have to contact each company to request your data be removed. Depending on the company, this is done through an online form, fax, email, or phone, and you might have to provide photo identification. Abine's single-page guide is very detailed and includes templates for the email and cover letters. You'll still also want to check the links on the Reddit post, however, because the two sites both include links for companies not included on the other's opt-out guide.

This is really a PITA. It's tedious and time-consuming work (that we shouldn't have to do). Abine estimates it would take 6-7 hours to contact those sites with the requisite information and instructions. It's well worth it, though, if you don't care to have your contact information, date of birth, and other personal details freely available to identity thieves or stalkers.

If you'd rather have someone else do this for you, Abine or Reputation.com (and probably other "online reputation management companies") offer data removal services. Reputation.com's MyPrivacy service is the less expensive option of the two, at $99 a year. It includes removal of your data from sites that sell it, telemarketer blocking, and free monitoring of mentions of you online. However, on the Reputation.com FAQs page, the company says it removes your information from the top 10 people-search sites, but some of those are aggregates of other databases. I couldn't find a complete list of all the sites Reputation.com removes your data from.

Abine's DeleteMe service, according to the company, removes you from a greater number of sites than competing companies. You can see the list of sites DeleteMe works with here. The subscription service, which includes data removal and privacy reports every three months, starts at $129 a year for one person or $229 a year for two.

Although DeleteMe covers 17 major sites and aggregates, there are three companies on the Reddit list that are not included (i.e., Acxiom, MyLife, and PeopleFinders), so you'll still have to do those yourself.

Whether you choose to do the data removal yourself or hire a company to do it for you, there's one last thing to know: Your success at getting your background details removed may just be temporary. A Wall Street Journal article notes that with these background check sites--notably BeenVerified.com--your data can resurface months after they're removed. Ugh! Until the FTC steps in, we're going to have to fight for our privacy online ourselves.

Read more of Melanie Pinola’s Tech IT Out blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Melanie on Twitter at @melaniepinola. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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