Between publicly available information and what we share on social networks, there's a lot of information about you available online. A quick search of your name can turn up some pretty surprising things, including your home address or old social media posts you'd rather not see the light of day. Websites that specialize in people searches, designed to help marketers advertise to you or to help old friends track you down, are the worst offenders. These sites often provide detailed personal information with the click of a button.
So how can you reclaim your private data? It's tricky, because there are lots of sites that collect personal data. However, you can lock down your social profiles and request to be removed from major search sites — you'll have to make a request with each site individually — to make your personal data harder to find.
Keep social media to yourself
Because many search sites pull data from publicly available social media profiles, reducing the data in your profile will help. You can start by simply not filling out your full profile. If you want even less information available for search engines to find, make your social accounts private. Here's how.
If you're a fan of Facebook, you may not want to completely lock down your account. In this case, you should still go to your privacy settings and select "no" next to "Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile?" This will keep your Facebook posts off search engines for more privacy.
Get rid of unused accounts
Many people search sites pick up information from your publicly available profiles. One way to get that data away from search engines is to simply delete the account. This isn't a practical option for every site, but there's a good chance you have some online accounts that you just don't use anymore. Get that data offline so no one can find it by deleting the account entirely.
Unfortunately, every site has its own set of hoops to jump through to delete an account. Head over to AccountKiller to find a comprehensive list of account deletion instructions plus tips on what deleting your account may leave behind. Search for the accounts you want to delete, and follow the instructions to get rid of them.
Remove yourself from people searches directly
The next step is getting your data off the major people search sites themselves. You can remove your listing from most of them, but it takes time and some legwork. Each site has its own requirements, most including verification of your identity via a copy of your ID (be sure to black out your ID number before you send it in). Once you’ve submitted your request, removing your information takes anywhere from days to weeks, depending on the site.
If your name or address changes, a previous request to delete your information may not work any more. Check back with these sites if your information changes to make sure your data stays offline.
See the requirements for major search sites below.
Fill out Acxiom's opt-out form, which requires your name, phone numbers, email addresses and mailing addresses to match you to your profile.
Search for your listing on BeenVerified's opt-out page and provide your email address. You'll receive an email with a link you need to click to confirm your opt-out.
Submit a request for removal through the site's contact form. You will be required to provide proof of identity by providing a government-issued ID.
Fill out its opt-out form, which requires your first name, last name city, state and zip code plus either your address or phone number.
Search for your listing on MyLife and claim your name. You can change the data on your public profile, but you can't delete it without subscribing to the MyLife service, which costs $10 per month.
Fax (425-974-6194) or mail (P.O. Box 4145, Bellevue, WA 98009-4145) a removal request to PeopleLookup. Include a copy of a government-issued ID and your name, date of birth and address. See full details about how the site handles blocking requests.
Search for your listing on PeopleSmart's Manage Your Public Records page. Then enter your email address; you'll receive an email with a link you need to click to confirm your opt-out.
Peoplefinders and Public Records Now
Search for your listing on Peoplefinders' opt-out page. All you have to do is click a few confirmation links (and ignore any offers trying to sell you information) to get rid of your information.
While the site name specifies Peoplefinders, this process also opts you out of Public Records Now, which is owned by the same company.
Mail in the site's opt-out form (it's a PDF), which asks for your name, data of birth, aliases and addresses going back 20 years.
Search for your listing on Radaris, then click the arrow next to the "Background Check & Contact Info" button on the right side of the page and select Control Information from the drop-down. You'll need to create an account (you need to provide is your email address and cellphone number to verify your account. Click on View My Account and you can make your account private or delete your information.
Search for your listing on Spokeo, then copy and paste the listing URL and your email address into Spokeo's opt-out form. You'll receive an email with a link you need to click to confirm your opt-out.
If you have multiple listings, repeat the process for each one.
USA People Search
Search for your listing on USA People Search's opt-out page and select your listing. Click a few confirmation links to get rid of your info.
Search for your listing on US Search's opt-out page, then print the profile page you find. You have to fax or mail it to US Search along with a copy of a state-issued ID card or drivers license (you can black out your driver license number).
Search for your profile on Whitepages, select your profile and then copy the URL of your profile page. Then go to the Opt-out of Whitpages page and paste in your URL and select Remove Me. You will get a call with a verification code to complete the process.
Fax (425-974-6194) or mail a removal request to ZabaSearch. You'll have to include a copy of a government-issued ID. See full details about how the site handles blocking requests.
Hire someone to do the work for you
If all this sounds like way too much time and effort, you can pay to have someone else do the work for you — or at least some of it. DeleteMe puts in requests to remove your information from upt to 19 major databases, which effectively removes you from a lot of aggregator searches like Pipl. After making its deletion requests, it keeps monitoring those sites in case anything else pops up. While it's still your responsibility to be sure you aren't putting too much information on social media where anyone can easily find it, DeleteMe will keep your info off of the major search sites and send you a privacy report every three months to keep you informed.
DeleteMe services start at $69 per year for one person for 7 sites or $129 per year for 19 sites. That's not a cheap thrill, but if you weigh the time it would take to individually remove yourself from each of these sites, you may find it worthwhile.
Can anyone find me online now?
Even after going through all of these steps, it's possible that you won't completely vanish from the internet. If you're active online, especially if you maintain social media accounts, having some kind of online footprint is hard to avoid. Many online searches simply aggregate publicly available information, and there's always the possibility that new data will appear.
However, taking the time to remove your information from the main services makes you a lot harder for marketers (and anyone else) to track down.
Updated on 1/4/2018 with updated removal instructions
[Search for people via BigStockPhoto]