I previously posted a piece about the growing need to manage the personal information about oneself on the Web. The amount of information that persons willingly (in many cases) provide about themselves without thinking is enormous. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that marketers, prospective employers, suitors and even criminals and stalkers can find information and use it whether or not the information correct or not. Unfortunately, the bad news is that once digital information makes it way onto the web, it is likely to remain there into perpetuity and in some cases can never be removed! According to an article in today’s NY Times:
“Snoops who take the time to troll further online may also find in blog posts or Facebook comments evidence of your political views, health challenges, office tribulations and party indiscretions, any of which could hurt your chances of admission to school, getting or keeping a job or landing a date. Many privacy experts worry that companies will use this data against users, perhaps to deny insurance coverage or assign a higher interest rate on a loan.”
Unfortunately, many web users are beginning to realize—the hard way—that providing personal information while building a Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter profile may not have been such a great idea after all. To that end, reputation management or the ability to remove incorrect or unflattering information from the web has been transformed into a business opportunity for a number of new companies. In the past, the best way to determine the amount of personal information about a person on the web was to key a person’s name into a search engines like Google, Yahoo or Bing.
For those of you who regularly “search yourselves” (it is a very smart thing to do), you know that it takes an inordinate amount of time to follow each and every one of the links that come up on search results pages. Because of this, many people simply search the first two or three pages of each search. The bad news is that some of the most “juicy tidbits” about a person often do not appear on the first few search pages (mainly because they are not optimized for search) Not to worry, Spokeo.com—a personal information aggregation site that bills itself as “Not your grandma’s white pages”—can quickly find a person’s vital information including age, home value, marital status, phone number, photos and even a home address.
After entering my name into the Spokeo’s search box (located on the company’s homepage) I pressed enter and viola the location of four persons who shared my name were retrieved. I selected the appropriate person (the one who lives in New Jersey), and as billed, the search results included my name, my address, home phone, the estimated value of my home and even my wife’s first name (she has a different last name)! The dat were presented in a convenient Web 2.0-lkie profile box. The search that I conducted on me was free. However, for an additional fee I can get a full report from Spokeo that includes additional information about my age, e-mail address, income, hobbies, photos, videos, and even my lifestyle (?).
While this is pretty shocking and creepy (especially if you don’t want people to find you), the unfortunate thing is that most of the information that the Spokeo search found was likely willingly provided by me while registering or signing up for things at various shopping and social media websites. To wit, there is a lot of information out there on the web about many unsuspecting persons and finding it can be easily accomplished using tools like Spokeo.
In my previous post, I mentioned Reputation.com, a start-up that offers a paid service to clients who want to expunge inaccurate or damaging information about them from the web. Like Reputation .com Abine offers a personal service called Delete Me but takes the personal data search and privacy paradigm a step further. Abine charges $99 a year for quarterly reports detailing the information available about you online. Further, the company has developed a suite of personal privacy software designed to “allow regular people to regain control over their personal information while continuing to browse, interact and shop online.”
Its main software product is a web browser add-on called Privacy Suite that according to a blurb on the Abine website “combines disparate privacy tools into a comprehensive privacy system. By putting all the controls in one place, the Abine plug-in makes it easier to control the amount of personal information being collected and stored about you online. Some features include:
- Stopping tracking by hundreds of advertising networks and websites
- Manage all cookies (regular & Flash) and trackers in one place.
- Easily create distinct online accounts for different uses
- Pre-fill registration forms with limited subsets of information
- Shield your real info with disposable emails and phone numbers
So, if you don’t have the time or cannot afford the $400 per year to use Abine’s Delete Me service or its Privacy Suite, you can always try to manage your online reputation by yourself by routinely Googling yourself and manually removing all inappropriate or compromising information about you. Sometimes, you may have to negotiate (or pay) bloggers or data brokers—companies that buys data from other companies and then sells it to companies that collect it— to remove a post or a name from people database sites like 123people.com, MyLife.com, Spokeo, US Search, WhitePages and Peoplefinder.com. If a blogger or data broker refuses to comply with a removal request, one privacy consultant suggests “creating more good content about yourself, like starting a LinkedIn profile and a personal blog, to push down the bad to the third or fourth search results screen where few people bother to look. If the content is defamatory — both false and damaging — or otherwise illegal, hire a lawyer.”
While most smaller online networking sites like BioCrowd will not sell or share a members personal information to online data brokers or marketing companies, some of the larger ones will allow third parties to access their databases for the right price!
Until next time…
Good Luck and Good Job Hunting (be careful out there)