Last year, YouTube was fined $170 million for collecting data of children without their parent’s permission. And Facebook was fined $5 billion as a result of the data breach that disclosed records of its users to Cambridge Analytica.
Your data in the cyberspace constantly face the risk of getting to the wrong hands. This may be the price you pay for the technology-driven conveniences and comforts you enjoy every day, from online retailing to social networking. And in a highly connected and data-driven world, it is no longer possible to escape this reality.
However, you can still take effective action to significantly reduce the data that are stored in the hands of others. And this article will help you with 6 expert tips to do just that, specifically with data brokers and aggregators. These are firms that collate data belonging to millions of people from numerous information sources in massive volumes. And these data are used for various activities such as targeted advertising and background screenings.
So, if you are worried about your online privacy, data brokers and aggregators are a good place to start. Due to the large volumes of your personal information that they could carry, removing your records from their databases could have a significant impact on minimizing your collated profiles in circulation. So, let’s look at those essential steps for you to take.
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Steps to Protect Your Data From Data Brokers
1. Opt-out from People Search Sites
People search sites gather and store large volumes of data to provide background search services to both organizations and individuals. This makes them one of the largest data aggregators online. They use complex algorithms to collate data from various publicly held sources such as social media as well as other private databases like subscription services to build massive databases. These are then sorted and organized so that comprehensive reports can be generated for various purposes such as to screen new employees on behalf of recruiters or for data verifications. The value of their services will largely depend on how extensive their databases are. This is why they collate data to build profiles of hundreds and thousands of people. So, chances are these people search sites would have already created your profile as well.
But the good news is that most large-scale people search sites allow you to opt-out from their databases. So, simply visit their opt-out pages and submit a request for removal with the URL of the profile page that they have created for you. They will get back to you with a confirmation once your profile is deleted, or you can simply visit their site and search for your profile to double-check.
2. Adjust the Privacy Settings of your Social Media Profiles
Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter serve as key sources for data mining. Therefore, one of the easiest measures to protect your data is to adjust your privacy settings. All major social media platforms allow you to choose who can view your profile and posts. You can also prevent others from searching for you by using your email address or phone number. Even the settings of your activity logs that are kept by the social media platforms can be deleted and adjusted to suit your privacy preferences. You can also review posts where you are tagged since all these provide valuable information for data brokers if left unguarded.
Another important step is to remove anyone you are unfamiliar with from your friend list and avoid accepting friend requests from strangers. According to studies, one in four people has fake social media accounts, which means you never know who you are becoming friends with on social networks. Besides, there is no point in making your profile private, if you allow just about anyone to become part of your private network and view your activity.
And while you are at it, follow some of the basic best practices to keep your data safe on social platforms. Be mindful of what you share and avoid the impulse to overshare. Read the privacy and data sharing policies of social networks and delete any unused profiles you may have.
3. Sign up with the Do Not Call Registry
Telemarketers and robocalls could be a common nuisance, especially when you get repeated calls at those busy moments. While they usually don’t seek your prior consent to include your number in their databases, they would still need to comply with the National Do Not Call Registry.
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Therefore, registering your home and mobile phone numbers with the Do Not Call Registry will help you to opt-out of marketers’ phone databases. This is a free service offered by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to protect consumer privacy and rights. And if you are still getting calls after registering your number, you can lodge a complaint with the FTC.
4. Register with DMAchoice
Email marketers are another form of data aggregators who could collate and profile your data for direct email marketing purposes. They can gather your email address and other personal information from various sources and can fill up your mailbox with numerous promotions and offers. While they often provide an unsubscribe button for you to remove your email address from their databases, there is an even easier option to delete your records.
DMAchoice provides you with the option to opt-out of a large number of email databases at once. They partner with over 3,600 businesses including top direct marketing organizations to help you remove your details. You can select organizations that you would like to opt-out of, specifically in 4 categories – magazine offers, credit offers, catalogs, and other email offers. This can help you to stay clear from those repeated promotional emails.
DMAchoice provides its services to register your details online for a $2 fee or to register via post with a $3 payment to keep your records off email databases for 10 years.
They also have separate services to remove details of deceased persons and also for caregivers to opt-out on behalf of those they provide care.
5. Do a Credit Freeze
Credit bureaus such as Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are some of the largest data aggregators. They collect data of millions of people to provide credit scores, which are then used by banks, mortgage companies, debt collectors, insurance companies, and credit card issuers. They could even help landlords and employers to do preliminary checks of tenants and employees.
They collate large volumes of data such as your credit payment history, current credit balance, lien records, bankruptcies, repossessions, and the likes to prepare consumer credit reports, which are then used by various third parties. These credit bureaus could also collect your non-credit related personal information such as your employment history, address, age, and any criminal records. And they access this information from various public sources as well as lenders and creditors.
So, needless to say, it’s highly likely that large amounts of your personal records are already in the databases of these credit bureaus. While it’s difficult to get them removed, you can certainly prevent them from reaching third parties. The easiest way to achieve this is through a request for a credit freeze.
This will prevent anyone from accessing your credit reports and your personal information together with it. This could also prevent criminals from opening bank accounts or taking up loans and credit cards under your name.
And since each credit bureau will have their own records of you, remember to submit credit freeze requests to all major companies.
6. Use a Data Removal Service
If you are struggling for time and just don’t want to go through the hassle of painstakingly going through numerous data broker and aggregator sites, you can seek the help of a professional data removal service.
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Sites such as DeleteMe allows you to get your data removed from a long list of websites in one go. While this can be quite costly, it’s a convenient way to protect your personal information at a click of a button.
Another thing to keep in mind is that opting out and removing your data from data brokers and aggregators does not often mean that your records are gone forever. Collecting data, organizing them and creating profiles are usually automated and are done using complex algorithms. This means that once your records are deleted, there’s nothing preventing them from collecting your data again and creating another profile later. Therefore, data removal services can become very useful and effective since they also offer annual subscriptions to screen your data continuously and to get them wiped off. Most of these companies also provide periodic reports of the data that has been removed so that you can keep a tab of the progress.
You cannot put a price on personal privacy in today’s data-driven world. The risks of your data getting to the hands of criminals can leave you exposed to financial scams, identity theft or even stalking. And even aggregating inaccurate information could lead to many disadvantages such as low credit scores. Therefore, being proactive about keeping your data secured should become a top priority for your safety and security.