Even without the recent revelations about Facebook sharing user data, it would be hard for anyone who has spent time online to be unaware that information about us is being shared with entities that are using that info to make money. Just one creepily-specific targeted ad is generally enough to clue us in.
What probably would come as a surprise is how incredibly personal the information about you being bought and sold is. If you don’t like the idea of your (most) private details being tracked, stored, quantified, and leveraged like some impersonal commodity with every use of a search engine, you’re not alone. And fortunately, finding out how to remove personal information from Google can be easier than you’d think.
Data brokering is a multi-billion-dollar industry—and the people involved want the public to know as little about as possible. They glean information in countless ways, employing algorithms that track, collect, collate, and analyze anything they can about potential customers of virtually every industry imaginable.
Some of the information is pretty basic and (to some) fairly innocuous, like your name, age, and the state you live in—much of which can just be picked up from public records. Then there’s the far more personal information. There’s nowhere near enough room here to list all of the ways in which your details are collected, but there are a few common ones we’ll address.
Much of your personal information is gathered from your purchases and your web history. Online retailers keep track of what you buy for a number of reasons, one of which is often selling that purchase history to other advertisers. Then there are third-party sites that pay for the privilege of observing your web-browsing. So every time you’re on the internet, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’re being followed by a horde of tracking entities, following wherever you go and whatever you search.
How They Use It
Once a data broker has access to your purchase history, search history, name, age, IP address, and location (often your home address), it’s not hard to build a profile. There are data brokering firms that specialize in digging up people’s details based on their online activity.
A data broker hired by a pharmaceutical company, for instance, can draw on the information they gather, buy (or both) to establish lists of people who suffer from basically any illness or ailment imaginable. Even without actual access to medical records, if someone frequents a website on which diabetes treatment equipment is sold, or has visited websites about living with diabetes, etc., it’s not hard for these data brokers’ algorithms to target that person as a diabetic. Keep in mind this targeting will occur whether the individual is actually diabetic or not, and data brokers can pinpoint their location to an address.
The same goes for people with mental illnesses; STDs; or addiction to drugs, alcohol, or gambling. Data brokers can also uncover users’ sexuality and any purchases of adult products they’ve made, in addition to whether or not they’re in debt and how desperate they seem to get out of it. There are interested parties willing to pay good money to obtain lists like that, and data brokers are happy to sell them.
What You Can Do
As harrowing as the reality of that sort of invasion of privacy is, it’s not impossible to remove personal information from Google. While going off the grid and never using the internet is most likely not feasible, your online footprint can at least be mitigated.
Quit accounts that you’re no longer using. And remember that search engines are just the messenger, most of the time, not necessarily the offender. Although it’s generally time-consuming, you have every right to contact data brokering firms and request that your info is removed.
One of the most effective ways to remove your personal information from Google or data brokers is to work with a professional company that can help manage and remove your personal information so it stays private. Find an outfit like DeleteMe and have your private information scrubbed from public trading.
Based out of Boston, DeleteMe is working to make the internet a better, safer place by putting users back in control of their data. Led by consumer protection, privacy, and identity theft experts, they are passionate about offering user-friendly privacy solutions. From password and payment security to removal from Whitepages, DeleteMe is here to help keep your personal information private.
Protect your privacy at Joindeleteme.com