Recently, I got a call on my cell phone from my long-lost friend from high school. While I was delighted to hear from this person, I was a bit disconcerted that she found my number so easily: it was right there on an internet people search and phone directory – along with my marital status, the number of children I had, and a record of my Auntie’s death two months ago. Since I value my privacy and take precautions to keep my personal information private, I was shocked that online phone directories knew so much about me. How did they find this information? More importantly, how could I get my name off the internet?
I quickly came to realize that deleting yourself from cyberspace is no easy task. You might as well say it is impossible because you’d have to spend a lot of money and time before you were deleted from phone directories and people searches all across the web.
Here is how I started: I did a search for myself at the leading people search websites as well as reverse cell phone lookups and phone directories. Yes, I had to pay money to see what dirt they had on me. Some had more information than others – including facts like where I’d gone on vacation last summer. Some of the people search websites had outright wrong information (which can be construed as a good or a bad thing from a privacy standpoint). I sent emails to each of the people search websites and reverse cell directories asking them to remove my name from the searches. Most were very accommodating and got my info down within a week. But did I really want to spend the rest of my life trying to get my name out of online directories?
Even though my attempt to get my name out directories was unsuccessful in the long-term scheme of things, it did give me insight to how these people search engines work and thus how you can avoid getting on them in the first place. These people searches and the reverse cell phone search websites buy information lists from marketing and credit reporting companies. If you have ever filled out a form for a free giveaway in a store, taken an online survey, or applied for credit, then your personal information can end up in a people search directory. The most advanced people search engines now cross reference your data with social networking profiles so they can get a very complete picture of you.