I heard my personal info got out because of Google or Facebook use. Is this true?
Your personal information gets out in many, many ways. Many of these you can directly control or severely curtail. The popular belief that personal information is exposed via engagement in social media (use of Facebook, Twitter, etc), or just from being online in general, is not entirely accurate. While this information may be used to find people, of course – the amount of individuals on people search sites like Spokeo and WhitePages drastically outweighs the number of people using Facebook. Even individuals who may have been deceased for decades – and have never had a Facebook account – still pop up on people search sites.
If social media isn’t to blame, how does my information get out?
There is no simple, straight-forward, singular answer to this question. Rather, it’s a nuanced process built up from decades of data collection. But before we get into data mining (like retailers do when you sign up for loyalty programs or birth registries), it’s important to know the core sources of how your info pops up on sites like WhitePages in the first place. This comes from a few sources. Primarily it’s the Motor Vehicle Department – a division of our own government. Thanks to a loophole in the 1979 Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, the MVD may resell personal information to private detective agencies and criminal background check companies whenever you get a new license with a new address (that’s why data companies have subsites like publicrecordsnow, privatespy, etc). Name, address, age, and other demographic information is also released from financial institutions – making things like buying a home or car, obtaining a loan, or just opening a checking account massively invasive activities by fault. Credit reporting agencies, credit card companies, and marketing companies commonly sell / resell old and new lists. While many sites and larger data broker companies will buy this information from these sources directly, many other sites scrape from these main sources and republish the info, often combining it from similar information found on social, career, and dating sites.
Can I do anything to prevent data from getting out?
There’s unfortunately nothing that can be done with the loophole in the 1979 Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. Most financial institutions – including banks and credit card comapnies – will have separate privacy/opt-out forms/optiosn available that you have to directly inquite about. Credit reporting agencies, however, must be manually opted out from.
Will changing my address and stopping the flow of data clean up what’s out there?
No, not very much. Changing your address at the MVD will only add this new address to your already-existing profiles, resulting in a larger problem. One item does not replace another. Accordingly, opting-out of a top-level source (like credit reporting agencies) will not automatically make what’s already out there disappear or update – what’s there is there unless it is manually removed. While the addition of data does trickle from the top down, the removal of data does not – all levels must be simultaneously addressed and then some readdressed.