Just like your room will get messier due to entropy, so too will your digital life get messier without energy placed towards addressing it. In that sense our digital life is just as subservient to the laws of thermodynamics as the rest of our world.
We all have our collective data out there in various forms. But like our body we only want to share it with the people we consciously choose to share it with.
On the one hand I am sharing my data on various social media forms like Linked in - I want people to be able to find me. I know that if someone wants to find out something about me they can look up tons of information that I am voluntarily giving away.
But the fact that someone is scraping the web and collecting this information irks me. The fact that someone has where I lived back in college on file, when I don't even remember where I lived back then, really bothers me.
And yes, I recognize that I am giving away a ton of information on my own. Anyone who wants to find out information about me can look me up on Linkedin, facebook, this blog or my YouTube channel. But the fact that someone can get information about me, and likely incorrect information about me, from some source other than the ones that I have given permission to share specific information about me, really rubs me the wrong way. And my guess is that it likely bothers a lot of people but we just don't have the time or the knowledge of how to address this issue.
So I decided I am going to take a stab at cleaning up my digital mess. It might be tilting at windmills but I am going to at least get rid of the slimiest of the data brokers who have my information. So below are some of the tools that I used to get a handle on the total amount of personal digital information about me exists.
Permission Slip - the first step
This is the best and easiest way to take a major chunk out of the total digital junk that exists out there. I can't recommend this free app enough! It was even recommended by the Washington Post.
Permission slip is an app made by Consumer Affairs. Basically you give them permission to send emails on your behalf to companies. They will send the emails to the companies and will keep you posted when the companies have taken you off their digital databases.
I have been able to get off 60 different company lists where I have given them some kind of data over the decades. In the month since I have used this app I have seen a decrease in the total amount of spam email I get; which tells me that there is just that much less digital information about me out in the world.
This is the single most valuable tool I have come across in the battle against spam and digital junk. I highly recommend everyone download the Permission Slip app. If you do nothing else you then this article will have been of value.
Permission slip doesn't have access to every company that has your data. So if you want to deal with the most obnoxious companies you will have to deal with them individually at this point.
Digital Data Brokers - The worst offenders
These digital data brokers/aggregators are the most obnoxious because they scrape the web to collect data about you. Someone can pay them to get a complete profile about you and get information about where you live, your family, relatives, income, last several jobs and much more. These companies basically collect all the pieces of information that exist about you online and put them into a package that anyone can buy.
Fortunately they cannot keep a profile on you if you reach out and tell them to delete your data. Unfortunately the process to get these kinds of companies to delete your data varies from very simple to rather burdensome. Below are the easiest of the data aggregators that I successfully got to delete my data. All in all it took me about three hours to delete my data off 6-7 sites. I recommend reading my results and to consider taking the time to get at least the easiest ones to delete your data.
Not too difficult to remove the data. I had to type in my name to find my profile. I copied my profile URL and pasted it into their opt out page.
Once I got a confirmation email I received this info below
This was the easiest site to delete my data. I simply went to zoominfo and typed in my name. I looked at my profile, which was more or less a copy of my linkedin profile. There was a button on my profile that said "manage my info". I clicked on that and pressed the "delete my information" button.
Zoominfo asked me why I wanted to delete my info - I simply clicked on "maintain my privacy". Zoominfo immediately deleted my info. It was very satisfying to retype my name into zoominfo and come to this result
One of the many data brokers that have collected snippets of your data are the white pages. They have data available to sell about you but fortunately forcing them to delete that data is fairly easy.
Go to White pages and type in your name. Copy the URL that is connected to your name. Then go to the White Pages supression request link below:
Paste the link to your name into the suppression request. They will send you a four digit deletion confirmation number. You will need to give them your phone number for a robo caller to reach out to you. The robo caller will call within a minute of your request. Answer and give the four digit number. Within 24 hours they will delete your information.
Out of all the pages out there MyLife gives me the creeps the most. It collects public records to create a page for you. It markets itself by telling you that someone you are looking for may have "court or criminal records". As far as I am aware I don't have any of those but the fact that they put that phrase next to my name is disgusting.
They are also one of the tougher ones to remove. I tried to go through their website but that failed. I eventually just emailed the website at the address below with boilerplate language telling them to remove all information about me from their website.
When I type my name into Google there still is a link to my name and it says that I have court records but when you click on the link to my name the page is gone - which is very satisfying.
Another information broker. The information they have about me is incredibly old as that phone number isn't one I have had in 22 years but I still don't want that information out there. If you go to the website for the removal below it is easy to delete this information.
The elephant in the room - social media
We can delete all of this data that is gathered by brokers but unless we significantly curate our data and limit what social media companies can do with our data this information will simply get into the next aggregators hands.
So to that end I strongly recommend setting privacy limits on your social media pages. You can limit Linkedin's ability to share data with microsoft or with other advertisers. You can limit what facebook shows to anyone who isn't a friend (or a friend of a friend).
But my guess is that most people no longer care what is out there about them. I am probably part of the last generation that will care about this kind of thing. Even in my caring about this I recognize my hypocrisy around this; I want the benefits of freely sharing information about myself with people without the consequences of freely sharing information. Fair enough. I guess this all reinforces the saying "If something is free, then you're the product".
I'm not prepared to give up the benefits of sharing my information with the world. But I am not about to give more than I expected to be giving.
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