BALTIMORE — Have you Googled your name recently? The search results may include personal information like your address, phone number, email address, and relative's names.
This information is collected by people search websites then sold online for as little as $1. There are ways to remove your profile (see below) and there are ways to keep your information from ending up on these sites.
Chandler Givens, CEO of Baltimore-based TrackOFF and a former privacy technology attorney, said people don't realize that 75 percent of all websites are collecting information.
"What data brokers do is they use online browsing history. They basically have technology running on websites that collects the data, they package it up, make it into profile, and sell it off to advertisers, other companies trying to market to you or for research purposes," Givens said.
TrackOFF confuses the tracking technology by masking your device. If data brokers don't know it's you looking at these websites, they have a harder time building and selling your profile. Even if you don't mind seeing ads after searching for a product, Givens said there are far worse implications.
"It becomes much more sinister when you're thinking about, well, I was looking up this health symptom and now this information is making its way to my insurance carrier and maybe in the subsequent years my premium's going to go up," said Givens.
The same goes for banks buying data on people seeking loans or retailers somehow knowing you're willing to pay more than your neighbor, so prices online are different.
“No one would be comfortable with the notion of somebody following them around all day and taking notes on everything you're doing, everything you're buying, everyone you're talking to, and then sharing and selling that information. I mean, that's exactly what's happening when you're on the web," said Givens.
While TrackOFF disguises information, DeleteMe focuses on damage control.
“You sign-up for it and we remove your name, address, and all kinds of information from dozens of websites,” said Rob Shavell, co-founder of DeleteMe from Abine.
It's possible to do this on your own, DeleteMe even gives you the instructions on their site.
WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii tried removing information from six people search sites. After one month, she found that three of them either ignored her request to remove her profile, or added a new one after they took down the original profile.
Shavell said customers of the $100/yr product are paying privacy experts to remove information fast and efficiently all-year long.
“They won't tell us where they buy the information from and they'll never tell you where they get it, but they're constantly looking for it and scraping the internet and buying data from where we shop, or places we voted or been to or hotels we booked. It's a dark marketplace and it is always active 24/7," Shavell said.
You can't completely erase your digital footprint, after all, the internet's written in ink, but there are ways for you to exercise control.
For more information on ways to erase your information online, click here.
WARNING: If you choose to do this on your own, know that many of these sites ask you to confirm information you're seeking to remove. This seems counterintuitive and may even be used to build a new profile. Shavell recommends creating a dummy email address, providing a fake name, or trying their other product Blur. There is a free and paid version of Blur. The tool masks users' emails, phone numbers, even credit card numbers so if there's a breach, the information on file isn't accurate.