If you think your privacy is at risk when it comes to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, they’re nothing compared to the «people search engines.» We’re talking WhitePages, MyLife, BeenVerified and the like.
Here’s the deal: States sell their data to brokers, who in turn feed court and criminal records, housing information, automobile details and more to these websites for a fee.
You never asked for your real estate prices to be posted online, your address, age or other personal details, but they are there.
The good news: Most of the sites will let you remove the data through an opt-out click, although it’s not easy. For example, MyLife requires you to call in and make the request personally. And it’s really a game of whack-a-mole because when you remove info from one site, it can reappear on some new site.
It’s the easiest of the sites to work with and most responsive, but it’s still a five-click process to remove your data. Start by looking up your name, copying the URL that’s been created for you, hitting the BACK button on your browser and then clicking the PRIVACY tab. At the bottom of the page, in small letters, is Opt-Out. Click that, type in the URL you copied and your e-mail address. Spokeo says it will then quickly remove the data. In our tests, it was gone within a day.
Search for your name, copy the URL created and go to the opt-out page, which is so hard to find, we’re just going to give you the URL here: You will then be asked to confirm and then to give WhitePages a reason you don’t want your personal information stored in their index. (A drop-down menu offers these choices: The info is incorrect, I’m getting too much spam and junk mail, I’m being harassed and I just want my information to be private.) Then WhitePages asks for you to offer your phone number and get a call back, from which you’ll be asked to type in a confirmation code.
For instance, MyLife told me «you have arrest or criminal records» and offered me the chance to view these, provided I pay $1 for a three-day trial membership that could be canceled only if I called in. It also said I «may» have bankruptcies and liens, sex offender notices and eviction reports.
I bit to see what they had. And it turns out I got what MyLife cited as a «minor infraction» traffic ticket in 1991. That’s 27 years ago for what I believe was an illegal U-turn.
Worst of all, after calling on Monday (888-704-1900) to demand my removal from the index and being asked to give my name, street address and birth date, as of Friday evening, everything was still there. A follow-up call said MyLife takes five to seven business days for removal. The other sites had me down in less than a day.
MyLife is being sued by several consumers, with one group accusing it of bait-and-switching people to pay one fee to find out who is searching for them and then getting extra recurring charges. Another group says MyLife has violated the Illinois Right of Publicity Act, reselling their “addresses, employment histories, criminal records, social media pictures and other sensitive and personal information.” Spokeo was sued for allegedly displaying inaccurate information, and it went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the company.