It’s more important than ever to safeguard your privacy online and opt out of data brokers retaining your information. BrandYourself’s Protect Private Information tool identifies and removes your personal data from 25+ of the most common data brokers and people search sites.
Nearly everything we do is tracked — and that information is being bought and sold by data brokers online.
Visiting a website, conducting a Google search, “liking” something on social media, getting married (or divorced), buying a car, registering to vote, or purchasing something online. These are just a few activities that contribute to the stockpile of information that data brokers have about you.
Add that to the fact that they also have your name, address, contact info, relatives, court records, employment history, financial records, and more? The picture becomes a bit scarier.
All this information puts your privacy at risk and leaves you susceptible to identity theft, hacks, robocalls, spam, and more.
We put together this guide to help you navigate the world of data brokers, get a better understanding of the type of information they have on you, and how you can opt out.
What is a data broker?
Data brokers, quite simply, are companies that buy and sell consumer information and data.
There are a few different types of data brokers that leverage this data for different purposes:
- Marketing & Advertising – these data brokers focus on the marketing power of data. They compile databases containing consumer profiles (demographic info, online behavior, spending power, etc.) and sell this information to companies specifically for marketing purposes.
- Risk-Mitigation & Fraud Detection – these data brokers use consumer data to offer ID verification & fraud detection to other companies. They also are able to use consumer profiles to provide insight to a company as to the “risk” of working with the person in question. One common use case of this technology is a bank getting a risk report on a consumer before issuing a loan.
- People Search Sites – consumer-facing websites that allow users to search and find information on an individual.
What to know about people search sites
Let’s take a closer look at people search sites. These are the most public-facing types of data brokers. You’ve likely seen them on the web or even used one of them to look someone up.
There are quite a few of these sites but some of the more popular sites include Whitepages, MyLife, BeenVerified, Spokeo, and Intelius.
They vary in terms of the type of information you can access but info can include your address, phone number, relatives, social media history, education, court & criminal records, income, property records, and more. Most allow you to access some basic information with each search and then charge a premium for access to a full report.
These sites pose an additional risk because anyone can access this data.
Use cases may range from conducting a background check on a new babysitter to scoping out a new love interest, to general curiosity about what info you can find on someone. However, malicious use cases may include data mining for identity theft, or even stalking.
How do data brokers collect information?
Data brokers go about collecting information in a number of ways. They may collect it themselves or buy it from other companies. They also scrape the web and other third party sites for publicly accessible information.
Some specific sources include public and government records, social media sites, purchase history & info, self-reported info (surveys,contest entries), and web behavior — just to name a few.
Data is big business so the methods by which these companies are compiling data – and the technology they use to do it – are constantly evolving.
What type of information do data brokers collect?
Most people aren’t aware of the true extent of information that is being bought and sold.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of the types of information that a data broker may have about you:
- Employment history
- Net worth & income
- Marital status
- Court & legal records
- Arrest & criminal records
- Speeding tickets
- Voting records
- Social media profiles & activity
- Buying behavior
- Household data
- Property records
Are Data Brokers’ practices even legal?
The short answer? Yes. Since data brokers and people search sites are largely pulling from publicly available sources and data, they aren’t necessarily illegally obtaining the information.
As with most areas of technology and cyberlaw, the law is behind the quick evolution of the technology by which they obtain this information–and the extent of the information they retain. Until recently, unless a data broker fit the qualifications of a “credit reporting agency” under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (most don’t), then there was little regulation of their behavior.
However, there has been some foreword progress in legislation that is a step in the right direction.
Vermont’s Protection of Private information Law
Enacted in 2018, Vermont’s law was one of the first chips to fall. It required that any company participating in the buying and selling of consumer personal data of Vermont residents must register with the state and allow for consumers to opt out. Within just a few months, over 121 data brokers registered with the state.
For many, this law provided a first glimpse into the world of data brokers and uncovered just how prolific the amount of personal consumer data is out there.
Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
GDPR went into effect in 2018 and is related to the processing and recording of personal data. A lot goes into the regulation but the key takeaway is it provides guidance as to the responsible collection and processing of EU consumer data. It allows people the right to not only receive a copy of the data a company has about them, but to also have it erased from the company’s database.
Protection under the regulation applies to citizens of the EU but the responsibility to adhere to the regulation applies to companies worldwide who work with personal data of EU citizens. The regulation brings lofty fines for a company’s failure to comply.
The California Privacy Protection Act (CCPA)
The latest in regulation is the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) that went into effect in January of this year. It’s intended to provide California residents more visibility into the information that companies have retained about them as well as the ability to have that information removed and prevented from being sold. This applies to any company that collects consumer’s personal data, does business in California, and satisfies one of the following thresholds:
- Annual gross revenues above $25 million
- Buys, receives, or sells the personal info of 50k consumers or more
- Earns more than half of its annual revenue from selling consumer personal info
These legislatures are a move in the right direction by forcing data brokers to step up and better empower consumers to take control of the data they have on them.
What’s the risk of having my information out on the web?
We’ve touched on it already, but the more information publicly available about you, the greater chance you have of experiencing identity theft, hacks, stalking, unwanted spam, robo calls, and more.
The rise of data breaches makes us all even more vulnerable – an estimated 15 billion records were exposed in data breaches in 2019 alone.
We’re not here to fear-monger, but it’s important to be aware of these privacy risks.
For example, the exact type of information found on data brokers and people search sites, like your mother’s maiden name or where you went to high school, can be paired with information exposed in a breach to answer key security questions to your bank account.
Has your information been involved in a data breach by another company? Try out our Dark Web Scan feature to see if your personal information has been exposed on the dark web through a known data breach. Get your free scan.
How to opt out and remove your info from top data broker companies
You may be thinking, if there’s so much information out there about me, is there anything I can even do to stop it? The answer is, yes.
The best way to safeguard your privacy is to understand which data brokers have information about you and how to opt yourself out. We compiled some top data broker companies and people search sites below that you can opt out from. You’ll notice each data broker contains different types of information and also has individual opt out processes.
Before we jump in, check out our Protect Private Information feature. It scans the top data brokers for your information and removes it on your behalf.
- WhitePages.com: Whitepages is arguably one of the most popular of the people search sites with over 35 million unique searches per day. It boasts the largest database available of contact information on US residents. You’ve probably come across them at least once when looking something up. (At BrandYourself, this is probably the one we hear about most frequently from our users). You can conduct a free search on Whitepages to receive basic information like name, location, address, age and relatives. For a fee, you can upgrade to download a full background check on someone including criminal & court records, financial records, address history, and more). They also have a Tenant Screening functionally on their site that allows landlords to run background checks on potential renters. Learn more about Whitepages & how to opt out.
- Mylife.com: Mylife is most recognized for their public profiles and reports on individuals, which includes a public score that gauges a person’s online presence. The site contains profiles and data on over 325 Million people. You can get a fair amount of information for people for free from these profiles including aliases, age, location, education, and “associates”. Their profiles also pull in images from an individuals’ social media accounts so it can be particularly jarring to see your picture associated with all of your information. Similar to most other data brokers, you can upgrade for a premium background report on an individual including social media history and public records. Learn how to opt out of Mylife.
- Spokeo: Spokeo is another big player in the game that claims to have collected over billions of records of information on individuals. They too allow you to conduct a basic search on someone for access to phone numbers, location, relatives, and marital status. They also allow you to view some court and legal records. After you purchase one of their reports, you can access relationship status, family background, spouse information, business associates, social media profiles, photos & videos, and more. Learn more about Spokeo & how to opt out.
- Intelius: Intelius is a people search and background check site. It contains much of the same information as the other sites (demographic info, public records, court records, family info, financial, info, etc.) but is unique in that it’s search engines fuel several other people search sites. Learn more about Intelius and how to opt out.
- BeenVerified: Like Intelius, BeenVerified’s search functionality powers other data brokers as well. Their premium reports can include criminal and traffic records, social network profiles, photos, associates, job history, education, and contact info history (aka all of your known email addresses). Learn more about Beenverified and how to opt out.
- Acxiom: Acxiom isn’t a people search site but rather falls into the “marketing & advertising” data broker category that we had discussed earlier. They collect hoards of information on people to sell to companies for marketing purposes and have one of the largest databases. Although their information isn’t publicly accessible like the other search sites, they are an important one to opt your information out of because they leverage your info in so many ways. Learn more about Acxiom & how to opt out.
- InstantCheckmate: Instant Checkmate is a public records search service that allows you to look up contact information, social media, photos, police records, background checksum, civil judgements, and more. Learn more about Instant Checkmate & how to opt out.
- Truthfinder: Truthfinder provides reverse phone lookups and background checks, including information on social media activity, possible relatives & associates, education history, criminal history, dating profiles, and more. Learn more about Instant Checkmate & how to opt out.
- FamilyTreeNow: Family Tree Now allows people to search for information on their family tree and genealogy. While this may not seem like a traditional data broker on the surface, they have tons of personal information on people, including date of birth, relatives, addresses, and public records. You can also upgrade to unlock a full background report that contains many of the personal information that many data brokers share. Learn more about FamilyTreeNow & how to opt out.
- Anywho.com: Anywho allows you to conduct a based on specific information that you have to start with, including a name search, address search, or phone number look up. From there, you can access additional information. They are branch of Yellowpages.com and therefore heavily feature their “phone number lookup” functionality. Learn more about Anywho.com & how to opt out.
- Nuwber.com: Nuwber is another pretty straightforward data broker that offers preliminary information upfront (location, age, addresses, basic contact info, etc.) with the option to upgrade for a more in-depth report with public and government records. Learn more about Nuwber.com & how to opt out.
- VoterRecords.com: VoterRecords is a bit unique in that it goes more in-depth into a person’s voting registration and records. This includes political party affiliation, city/state registered to vote in, voter status, voter precinct, as well as congressional, house, and senate district.
- USPhonebook.com: As the name implies, USPhonebook.com places an emphasis around the information tied to a specific phone number. They have a reverse phone number lookup that then pulls up information for the phone number’s owner (landline or cellphone) including address history, known relatives, phone carriers, contact history and more. Learn more about USPhonebook.com & how to opt out.
- FastPeopleSearch: According to their site, FastPeopleSearch has over 16.5 Billion records on nearly 800 million people. That’s a lot of data. They allow you to look up much of the same information as other data brokers including basic information (name, address, employment, relatives, education, etc. as well as the option to upgrade for more advanced background reports on an individual. Learn more about FastPeopleSearch & how to opt out.
- PeopleSmart: PeopleSmart’s search functionality is actually powered by BeenVerified’s search engine and therefore pulls in a lot of the same data. They are also more transparent than most other data brokers on their website about how consumer information is being used by them and how people can opt out. Learn more about PeopleSmart & how to opt out.
- PeopleSearchNow: PeopleSearchNow allows you to do a reverse phone number lookup as well as a direct people search. Some of the information they include in their premium reports on individuals include arrest & criminal records, warrants & police records, speeding tickets, assets & properties, and more. Learn more about PeopleSearchNow & how to opt out.
- TruePeopleSearch: TruePeopleSearch is a bit of a unique data broker in that all of their people search listings are free.That’s right, you can access addresses, relatives, contact info, and public records for free. The catch is they do offer a background report for each individual which redirects you to PeopleFinders (another data broker). Learn more about TruePeopleSearch & how to opt out.
- Yellowpages: Yellowpages.com is the digital version of that big yellow book that used to show up on your doorstep. They are a people search site, but also allow for you to search and find information on a number of businesses as well, including restaurants, auto repair, doctors, dentists, and more.
- US Search: USsearch.com allows you to conduct people searches, phone number lookups, background checks, property record searches, social network searches, and more.
- Archives.com: Archives focuses on looking up family history and ancestry information. You can find potential relatives as well as look up birth records, death records, marriage certificates, divorce certificates, and more.
- ThatsThem.com: ThatsThem is a free people search site that actually allows you to dig up quite a bit of information on someone including contact information, estimated networth & income, household wealth, purchasing behavior, and more.
- InstantPeopleFinder: InstantPeopleFinder is a free people search engine. You can look up and get access to a person’s contact info, employment, age, relatives, education, and more.
- ZabaSearch: ZabaSearch is actually powered by Intelius’ search engine. You can run a basic search on someone to get their age, location, basic contact info, relatives, and more. From there, you can upgrade to receive a more detailed background report.
- Addresses.com: Addresses.com places an emphasis on finding a person’s location and/or contact information but they also contain much of the same information as other data brokers (public records, voting records, demographics, etc)
- AddressSearch.com: This data broker focuses on email and mailing address lookup for individuals. According to their site, Addresssearch.com provides free access to info on more than 95 million email addresses & 140 million mailing addresses.
Data Broker Opt Out Timeline – How Long Does it Take?
Once you submit an opt-out request to a data broker or people search site, it can vary site-by-site for how long it takes for them to honor the opt out request and remove your information.
Some sites will be instantaneous or within 24 hours. Some can take as long as 30-45 days to honor the request. On average, you can expect a removal to take between 3-5 days. The reason it varies is because each site has their own removal request and review process – there’s no required uniformity across how data brokers handle opt outs.
If you still see the listing up after some time, reach out to the data broker via their support channels.
Continue to Monitor Your Online Privacy
Even once you’re removed your information from data brokers, it’s crucial that you stay on top of actively protecting your privacy. This is important for 3 reasons:
- The listing may stay in search results for a while – Even if the listing is removed from a data broker’s website, it can still appear in Google search results for some time. This is because it can take time for Google to “re-crawl” the results and notice that the information has been taken down. This isn’t a permanent issue by any means, but is something you should be aware of.
- It’s common for data brokers to repost information – This is an unfortunate reality that we see quite often and for a number of reasons. Two main reasons include:
- How data brokers acquire personal data in the first place. Since data brokers are constantly scraping from so many different sources to fuel their databases, then they may inadvertently repost a record about you if your information crops up again on one of those sources.
- There may be multiple records of your name with different information. Since data brokers are pulling from so many different sources, it’s possible that some of the sources may have different or even inaccurate information. This can sometimes result in a data broker having two or more records on an individual. Most times, an opt out request will take care of both records, but there are instances where you may need to go back and submit another opt-out request for the second listing.
- There are additional privacy risks outside of just data brokers – Data brokers are certainly a prime source of privacy concerns, but it’s important to stay vigilant about other areas of your online presence. We’ve already discussed the risk of data breaches — in line with this, you should be mindful of what accounts you have created over time. Every time you buy something on a website, download an app, or sign up for a newsletter or “free offering”, you are creating an account with your information. If you think back, it’s probably A LOT. We created a free tool that identifies old accounts that you’ve signed up for and helps you to delete them. This helios mitigate the risk if your information being involved in a future data breach. Check it out here.
Now is the time to take better control of your privacy online. The first step is to understand which data brokers have your information (and the type of data they are storing), then you can begin the process of opting out. Fortunately, BrandYourself’s Protect Private Information feature makes it dead simple. Get started here.
Still not sure where to start? Give us a call at 646-863-8226 to speak with one of our experts.