Editor’s Note: Peter Pelland is the CEO of Pelland Advertising, a company that he founded in 1980 that has been serving the family camping industry for nearly 40 years. His company specializes in building fully responsive websites, along with producing a full range of four-color process print advertising, for clients from coast to coast. Learn more about Pelland Advertising at www.pelland.com.
You might be surprised to learn how much of your personal information is readily available online, easily accessed by just about anybody and being packaged and sold at a profit by over 100 data brokers, so-called public record providers. There are over a billion searchable public records today, and both federal and state legislation passed over the last 50 years ensures the public’s right to access. It all started with the Freedom of Information Act, passed in 1967, guaranteeing that anyone can submit a public records request to any federal agency and that agency (with few exceptions) is mandated to provide the information in a timely manner. This federal legislation was followed by similar “sunshine laws” that were passed in all 50 states, providing access to state and local public records.
The public has a right to know what is going on behind closed doors with its elected officials and government agencies, but it is the access to public information regarding specific people — routinely exploited by profit-seekers who sell compiled data to marketers and others who have no business accessing your personal information — that is troublesome.
If you do a search on Google for your name, city and state, you are likely to be shocked to see how much personal information (some of it highly inaccurate) is available with just one click, where public records are consolidated with information that you may have voluntarily provided on platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn. You will probably find your full name and address, former addresses, family members (including births, deaths, marriages and divorces), phone numbers, email addresses, year of birth, estimated annual income and net worth, real estate and property records, property taxes, professional licenses, voter registrations, campaign contributions, court records, arrest records, prison records, sex offender registrations, bankruptcy records, educational level, general credit status, liens and corporation and LLC records. Is that enough? The only records that are generally off-limits are your tax returns, school transcripts, library records, health records and juvenile court records.
How Public Records Providers Operate
If you go to one of these public records providers’ websites, you will first be asked to enter the first and last name of the person for whom you are searching, along with his or her city and state. You will then be presented with a list of results that likely include that person, along with links for “more information” or a “full report”. You will then wait several minutes for the report to be allegedly generated, teasing you with the categories of information that are being compiled, and presenting you with one or more payment or subscription options. If you are like me, you realize that public information must remain accessible, but you would like to see your personal information removed from websites that are packaging that information for profit and selling it to anybody willing to pay their fee.
If you live in California, you are in luck because the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) protects the rights of California residents regarding their personal information, including the right to easily request access to or deletion of their personal information, as well as the right to demand that businesses stop selling that personal information. Whether you live in California or elsewhere, you basically need to go to the website of each public records provider and click on the link (usually at the bottom of the page) that says, “Do Not Sell My Personal Information.” You will then be directed through a multi-step process that will include email or text authentication in order to be removed from that one seller’s database. (If you live in California, there will be a secondary link that will streamline the process.) Of course, there are businesses that are willing to capitalize on anything, and there are companies online that will do the work for you for a substantial fee. Two of those are companies called DeleteMe — www.joindeleteme.com/ and OneRep — www.onerep.com/ that will provide that service for one person for one year at prices of $129 or $99 respectively. Presuming that you would like to avoid that kind of fee and would like to go through the process of removing your personal data from these websites yourself, here is a list of some of the major culprits, along with their removal URLs:
- Instant Checkmate.instantcheckmate.com/opt-out/
- US Search.ussearch.com/opt-out/submit/
- ID True.idtrue.com/optout/
Several additional websites do not maintain their own databases, basically repackaging the information from larger data brokers and earning a commission on sales. In those instances, getting removed from the source of the data will remove you from more than one site. Examples are the PeopleLooker, PeekYou and PeopleSmart websites that run off the BeenVerified database, and InstantPeopleFinder that runs off the Intelius database. Then there are other companies — such as FreeBackgroundCheck.org (with a bald eagle in its logo and which at $19.95 per month is anything but free) — that seems to spit in the eyes of privacy rights. According to the FAQ page of their website: “As a courtesy (sic) we can ‘opt out’ your specific information. Contact customer support and request the procedure instructions to be removed from the database. Each individual that wishes to be opted out must be accompanied by proof of identity and address. We will only be processing opt-out requests we receive by fax or mail and no request will be processed without complete information. Requests for opt-out will not be processed over the phone or via email.”
You probably already knew that we are living in a world where personal privacy rights are continually swept under the carpet, and where there are countless companies and individuals that are willing to compromise those rights through the use of dubious profit-based services. Although you may very well feel like David vs. Goliath, you can at least attempt to fight back!