The Checkout

Keeping a Low Virtual Profile

On Sunday, my colleague Sara Kehaulani Goo wrote about the growing phenomena of daters running background checks before doling out the first kiss. But just as public sites such as Intelius and US Search allow you to snoop on others, you should consider running a search on yourself to find out how much personal information is floating around out there.

There are a plethora of sites that any halfway-thorough Nancy Drew or Hardy boy could mine to build a complete dossier.

The Wall Street Journal's Michael Totty recently wrote up a handy guide to opting out of such sites. (Subscription required.)

Here's a quick and dirty summary:

  • Phone listing Web site will remove a residential listing if you fill out this form.

  • Intelius and related sites such as will let you only temporarily opt out of the results of an Intelius search if you can provide proof of identity to Intelius, 500 108th Ave. NE, 25th FL, Bellevue, WA 98004.

  • will keep some records offline if you send a letter with your request, name, aliases, address and former addresses, and date of birth to Opt-Out, PublicRecordsNow/, 15332 Antioch St., Suite 713, Los Angeles, CA 90272.

  • You can try to opt out US Search and related sites such as by sending them a written request with your social security number, date of birth, past addresses and aliases at US Search, Opt-Out Program, 600 Corporate Pointe, Suite 220, Culver City, CA 90230.

    The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse also offers a guide to opting out. And here are some more tips by's Brian Krebs about how to keep your computer from getting hijacked.

    If you really want to know what you're up against, though, take a seat, take a deep breath and take a look at Wired's amazing tale about David Thomas, a "carder" who worked as a cybercrook for the FBI. (I called it here first: Jason "My Name is Earl" Lee plays Thomas in the movie version.)

    The multipart series is worth the time it takes to read. It offers a vivid glimpse into the thriving international market for stolen identities. Most shocking, perhaps, is the revelation that much of this illicit activity takes place under the passive gaze of law enforcement, which prefers to sit things out and wait for bigger fish while consumers and businesses absorb huge financial losses.

    If you haven't opted out before you read this story, you will want to afterward.

    Have you tried to obliterate your virtual profile? Did it work?

    By Annys Shin |  February 1, 2007; 8:00 AM ET Privacy
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    Please email us to report offensive comments.

    First. woo-hoo!

    Posted by: Catch me if you can... | February 1, 2007 9:08 AM

    How about online news sites ( comes to mind) stop data mining by forcing useless registration from all users in order to read the articles? It's just one more place your address, email address, and more is stored and could be lost.

    Posted by: Dan | February 1, 2007 9:16 AM

    there is no rule that makes you put Real information into these registrations.

    Posted by: J.W. Booth | February 1, 2007 9:32 AM

    Yeah, some of those sites that are asking for proof of identity, etc. sound like THEY are datamining.

    Posted by: Anonymous | February 1, 2007 10:01 AM

    No, I haven't, but it seems like an impossible task seeing as there are hundreds of thousands of sites that mine some kind of information from you. I don't think it can be done. The only thing that can be done is to manage it from your side.

    Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | February 1, 2007 10:09 AM

    A simple Google search on yourself can be pretty revealing. From races I ran in 1998 to my name in company newsletters to places I volunteered to college sports stats - you can learn a lot about someone just by typing in the name.

    Basically a date could confirm my education, work, and hobby history all through the magic of Google, and all before I even said a word.

    Posted by: Google shadow | February 1, 2007 10:21 AM

    It is scary how much is out there that anyone could find. I find it ironic however, and very sad, that the credit idiots still had me listed as living in my college dorm and working on the campus. The burden should not be on people to opt-out. Rather, if they want their data stored, they should opt-in. Data mining is an invasion of privacy. That these companies want you to send in all your private info to buy time to not be on their lists reeks of fish. It means they can fill in the gaps and publish the list when your time runs out. Also, they make themselves an easy target by being a one-stop-shop for crooks.

    Posted by: Chris | February 1, 2007 10:54 AM

    Have you checked out this InstantPeopleFinder site? Presumably they want an SSN as proof of identity.. well, I doubt they have it in the first place (if so where the heck did they get it???), and I'd would NEVER send it to a site/company like that! Please don't recommend that people do so.

    Posted by: SSN?? | February 1, 2007 10:55 AM

    Haha, thanks, you're gonna help me pay my law school bills. I don't care what anybody says, I never agreed to have my information collected, sorted, databased and sold, and displayed on the Internet. I've already pulled the registered agents for Virginia and have a call in to file at least two Bill of Complaints. I recommend you all do the same. If you didn't agree to have your information collected, sorted, sold and displayed then you should file suit in your state court.

    Posted by: Isit2pee | February 1, 2007 11:18 AM


    Do you think you are the first person to file a lawsuit for this? You can be sure you won't be the first person to loose this case in court either.
    Looks like you're going to waste the money you needed for law school.

    Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | February 1, 2007 11:28 AM

    Maybe there will be a class action lawsuit on behalf of everyone on the list! We will all get a coupon for 20% off their services!

    Posted by: Chris | February 1, 2007 12:02 PM

    Is there any means by which one can force these companies to provide to individuals the information they have about them free of charge? I realize this is a naive position but ultimately, it's my data, why should I have to pay for it? Could you hold them liable for actions resulting from erroneous data they provide?

    Posted by: Dan | February 1, 2007 12:36 PM

    It's "lose" not "loose". Looks like someone needs to go back to school.

    Posted by: dc | February 1, 2007 12:52 PM

    Dan, good point, but unfortunately, short of giving them all your information for verification purposes, there is no way to verify what they have on you. I can say without a doubt that once you give it to them, they will have it. :)
    It just is not fair to us, the consumer, once again.
    Stand by for worthless class action coupon- available upon verification of your personal information.

    Posted by: Chris | February 1, 2007 1:12 PM

    What I don't understand is why everyone is so sensitive to government's invasion of privacy, but all of these private companies are allowed to collect, compile, and sell all of the private information they want! Why is this not regulated? There must be strickter laws in place to end all of this madness. And no, I will not be providing my SSN and date of birth and other sensitive information to any of these crooks in hopes that they'd remove me from their database. Cuz they won't -- they are crooks after all.

    Posted by: Elle | February 1, 2007 1:24 PM

    Elle makes a very good point

    Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | February 1, 2007 2:08 PM

    She made a great point, unfortunately the other side can be spun that any government regulation of the invasion of privacy will be an interferance in free trade. If I ever get into congress, I would be willing to give it a try if only because it is the right thing to do... which is precisely why I would probably never make it in! LOL

    Posted by: Chris | February 1, 2007 2:47 PM

    With all this squawking about privacy, have you ever seen some peoples' personal websites? Photos, resumes, hobbies, employment, addresses, photos of the birth of their babies, all written out there in black and white for all the world to see. Then they don't want their phone numbers published in the phone directory. Sheeeesh.

    Posted by: Anonymous | February 1, 2007 4:50 PM

    Instant people finder wants a SS# to be removed from their database? Isn't that like feeding the hen to the fox?

    Posted by: NJ Reader | February 1, 2007 7:05 PM

    Getting removed from these databases, or having erroneous information deleted, or even seeing your own file, requires that you give the company enough information to create a file on you even if they didn't have one before -- and they must know this is more reliable than any other data source they could find. What a racket -- "if you don't want us to invade your privacy, just give us all your personal information!" What's wrong with this picture?

    For now, the only realistic option for most people is to pollute these databases every chance we get. If the error rate is high enough, the economic incentive to collect and sell the information is gone.

    Posted by: Denny | February 2, 2007 5:26 PM

    The comments to this entry are closed.


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