Between Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, we share a lot of information about ourselves online. Here are a few ways to reclaim at least some of your privacy.
We knowingly give up a lot of information about ourselves on social networks. But even outside of Facebook and Twitter, there is a lot of personal information about us floating around online. I talked to Hayley Kaplan, who runs a site called What-Is-Privacy.com. She helps people "scrub" information about themselves off the internet. It could be their home address, personal phone number, photos or more. Here are some of the things you can do yourself to reclaim at least a little bit of your online privacy.
1 - Know what's floating around online about you.
Start at a site called pipl.com and search for yourself. This site mostly links to other sites on the internet that have information about you. It's a good starting point to figure out what information people can see about you. It could be something as innocuous as an old Pinterest profile. I was surprised to find that every Amazon review I ever made was all on one page.
Next, go to Google and perform a search for your name and home address. This will reveal all of the sites that have your information available to anyone who wants to find it.
2 - Ask sites to take down your personal information
Go to the sites that have personal information of yours you'd like taken down and look for a way to opt out. Usually, it's hidden or tough to find. Look at the bottom of the page for an "opt out" link or a FAQ. Sometimes, it's buried in there. Go through the steps in the opt out process to ask them to delete your info. This might sometimes require an email or verification of some of your information.
You can also Google search the name of a site plus the terms "opt out" and see if anyone has written about the process and their experience. Kaplan has various how to's on her website as well.
3 - Keep in mind most sites don't have to remove your personal information
Kaplan explained to me that many of these sites grab your info from publicly available sources such as bills, public records and the county clerks office. This is mixed with the information we provide about ourselves. Usually, these websites just gather it all into one place and make it easily accessible.
4 - Follow up to see if your information has been taken down
Keep track of the requests you make and go back to the sites to see if your information is still there. Don't send threatening messages to the sites as they have most likely researched the legality of what they do.
5 - Stop giving out new information
Remember, a lot of this information is stuff we knowingly give up ourselves. Anniversary on Facebook? Birthday on Twitter? List of everywhere we've worked on LinkedIn? It goes on and on. Think about all of the places we share information with on a daily basis and try to keep it to a minimum. When it comes to your social security number, Kaplan says to question every person that asks. Doctors, dentists and schools rarely need it and many won't require it if you ask to hold it back for privacy reasons.
Also, stop filling out tons of personal information about yourself to enter sweepstakes like you see at the mall. The ones with a giant car or other big prizes with a form to fill out? They're just reselling all of that information to marketing firms. That's why they ask questions like how many people are in your household or your yearly income. It all goes into a cross-referenced databases to build a complete picture of who you are.
Finally, stop throwing away the Annual Privacy Notices you get from your banks. Basically, if you don't respond to those notices, your bank is free to share a bunch of your personal information with various other businesses and marketing firms. Yes, they are making money selling what you think is your private information. So next time, take the 5 minutes to find the part where it tells you how to opt out of information sharing - whether it's sending an email, returning a form, calling a phone number or going online.