In addition to the quote in the title, Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation.com is famous for saying “people’s information is the new oil.” What he means is that someone’s personal information is a valuable commodity and it is something that many different entities are desperate to get a hold of.
Controlling who has access to your personal information used to be relatively simple. If someone wanted to know where you lived, or any demographic information about you, they had to pay for your public record. Now, they simply have to do an internet search. A few quick keystrokes and a few bucks are all that is needed to find out pretty much anything about you that someone wants to know.
This is largely due to the personal data brokers like Intellius setting up shop online and refusing to back down. These companies buy public records information from official sources (which make them available in a database for a cost) and put it into their system. In spite of how irritating and intrusive this feels, they are not yet under any legal requirements to get your permission before getting your information. They are also not yet legally required to get your permission before giving your information to someone who asks for it.
Even worse: they do not have to keep the information current or verify its accuracy.
The data miners aren’t the only companies making lots of money off of the buying and selling of peoples’ personal and demographic information. Background check companies buy the same databases. So do marketing companies, which is why there is so much spam (both snail and electronic) plaguing your mailbox.
So what do you do about it? How do you make sure that your private information stays private?
Unfortunately, right now pretty much the only thing you can do is contact the independent companies and demand that your information be removed. Often you will have to provide a photocopy of a legal ID and a written demand to be removed from the system. Even then it can take quite a long time to get your information out of there.
You can speed the process up somewhat by using a reputation management company (like the one run by Michael Fertik) to help you with the process. Many of these companies have built in mechanisms through which you can get your information yanked out of the system.
It’s also important that you visit your local official records office. You can look at what is contained within your official record and then “correct” the information they have on hand, like subbing in a post office box for a street address, a Skype phone number instead of your regular phone number, etc. This way the only information people who buy your record can get is information you want them to have.
If you really want to keep your personal and private data out of the hands of strangers, you’ll need to be vigilant. Regularly run searches on yourself and check your reputation online. Hopefully soon, there will be laws that will help keep private info private. In the meantime, patience and vigilance are the names of the game.