I tried to remove myself from the internet. Here’s what I learned

SocialProof Security CEO Rachel Tobac uses social engineering to hack CNN tech reporter Donie O'Sullivan's accounts.
Written by Ayhan

MyLife pulls out so much public data to create background reports and “reputation scores” on millions of people in the US, all of which are available to those willing to pay for a monthly membership. On top of that, I found sometimes inaccurate but strange personal information about my life: my birthday and home city; My previous job title (interestingly not my current one); A list of people who “maintains Seth’s relationships”, including my parents’ names, each connected to their own profile pages with even more data. Waiting to find it all there.

When I called the site, the customer service representative insisted the information was not from MyLife, but from “Interwebs”. Some back and forth, the representative agreed to delete my profile page. I was successful – two hours later when I received a lot of promotional emails from the company, one encourages me to sign up for membership, the other talks about boosting my credit score.

I learned through my brief, manic campaign in December to scrub my personal data as much as possible and start the new year with a clean digital slate, making it difficult for you to seem to be scratching the surface. Data is an industrial complex. By the end of my experiment, I felt worse about being able to regain control over my data than I had started.

Our data is out there. What now?

In recent years, it has become so honest in some tech-savvy Twitter threads that most of our personal information is already somewhere, thanks to an ever-growing list of hacks.

Banks, Retailers, Social networks – both The main And Defunct – All heavy data breaches detected. In 2017 alone, Verizon (Was) Confirmed Every Yahoo account – totaling 3 billion – was affected by a massive breach and Equifax (EFX) A revealed a Breach Names, social security numbers, dates of birth, addresses and credit card numbers have been disclosed to almost half.
There are only two viable emotional reactions to the total collapse of personal privacy: rejection or helplessness. After trying the previous one for a while, I turned to the next one, like many moments in my life, by listening lately Sobering podcast About a hack. I followed the usual steps recommended in information cybersecurity stories – implementing two-factor authentication; Signing up for a password management app; The indefinite freezing of credit reports – with the assumption that none of these steps remove any personal information floating in a dark corner of the web.
Bruce Schneier as cyber security expert Keep it recent To one of my co-workers: “So my password is stolen. Do I have any way to go to every criminal on the planet, go to their computers and delete my name?”

But there was more to be done, I thought. The reality is that the Internet is already packed with information that can be used against us, much of it completely gathered through legal means. First names of mothers. Birthdays. Home addresses. I may or may not be able to prevent my favorite stores from being hacked, or speak to a bunch of hackers after the fact, But a bad actor can make it a little harder to find my personal information online – and in the process, I can regain some control over my data and my life.

How to Delete Your Personal Information Online

Deciding to delete your information online is easy. The hardest part is figuring out where to start.

For many, the obvious answer is focusing on the user-facing services Facebook (FB) And Google (GOOGL), We willingly – if not always consciously – hand over data about ourselves on a regular basis. Tech industry veteran Praveenkumar Venkatesan decided to start DeleteMyData To help people do so at the end of 2018.

By providing a quick and easy guide to delete a range of popular services. Venkatesan hopes to “simplify” the process of scrubbing our data. As he puts it to CNN business companies, it is “very easy” for people to collect their data, but it is “very difficult” for them to get out. About 40,000 people visit the site every month, he said. By comparison, Facebook has four platforms, each with over 1 billion users.

As a tech journalist, I don’t see myself completely eliminating the social networks and services that I rely on for work (over the years I’ve adjusted my privacy settings to a lot of people and made some accounts private). Instead, with the help of some online resources, including guidelines from a Cybercrime expert And Reputation defender, An online reputation management service, I settled on a short list of lesser-known databases that are considered one of the leading aggregators of personal information.

These include data brokers who buy and sell our personal data, as well as “people search” services such as Spocky and Radaris, as well as background check platforms such as Infotracer and MyLife. They may not be household names, but these sites know a lot about homes. According to Harrison Tang, a new neighbor, tenant, client or, according to Spokeo CEO, “You can turn to these services if you are looking for information about long lost family members or friends.

“Different people have different feelings about privacy,” Tang said. As he says, the pressing issue is not just about collecting data, but about how and why more transparency is needed. “I don’t think customers should be surprised.”

Unlike data breaches that take great care to disclose our personal information, this data is legally aggregated. Spokio, which sells about $ 70 million a year from daily customers and some enterprise customers, including law enforcement agencies, pulls data from dating websites, social networks, criminal records and a “marketing database” from retailers, Tang said.

Jenna Raymond, COO of Accumcom Corp., an information services company that considers Infotracer one of its brands, told CNN Business in December that criminal records also include data records for these sites, as well as property records. “The minute you buy a house, it’s public information,” she said.

“You may deviate from the infotracer, but it’s not there yet.”

A game of walk-a-mole

In a matter of days, I pulled out of the infotracer – and many more.

Some, including Infotracer and Spokio, I was able to remove immediately; Others said it could take up to 72 hours to pull information. Many services require some new data to scrub the old one from the phone number to verify the deletion to the email address that MyLife asked for and then spam me.

On Radaris, I had to do it before I stopped Click through the page With instructions on “how to control your information” listing over a dozen “premium data providers” that integrate, host and distribute personal and business information, including Facebook, Google, Equifax and … the United States Patent and Trademark Office. . Next, I list dozens of data brokers and websites.

Radaris representatives and MyLife did not respond to requests for comment for this story. The USPTO did not immediately respond to questions.

“Unfortunately there is no centralized service to delete your information from all sources by a single request,” according to Radaris Page.

By the time I finally took control of my Radaris page, it seemed more lost than before.

“I believe that information is power,” said Raymond Slogan She’s in the company. We at least agreed on this: the power of information, and consumers – myself included – gave us so much more.

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