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A look into data, data collection, and what we can do to protect our data online
In this new, digital world, it's safe to say almost all of us have endless amounts of data on ourselves on the internet. Some of it is related to ad data, other is social media information, and some of it is straight-up information that has been hacked as part of a data breach.
A lot of this data ends up getting scooped up and sold by data brokers. The data can be used for a variety of things, from ad targeting and doxxing to phishing and identity theft.
Trying to delete the data yourself is almost (if not totally) impossible. Luckily, there are companies out there now that can help with that, both on the personal and professional levels.
I had the chance to interview Rob Shavell of DeleteMe, to discuss what it is they do, what is going on with our data, and what we can do about it. You can read the full interview below.
Care to introduce yourself and your role with DeleteMe?
I’m Rob Shavell, the Co-Founder and CEO of DeleteMe. My basic job is to help hiring and supporting great people dedicated to protecting people’s privacy online.
I also keep up with changing laws and regulations that support consumers getting back control over their data - and even chat with journalists now and then.
In just a few sentences, what is DeleteMe?
DeleteMe is a simple service where all someone has to do is sign up and our privacy experts get to work finding and removing personal information from Google and currently over 30 of the top data brokers that collect and sell personal information. We help our customers take back control of the personal information that’s out there about them and their families online.
That information comes from a lot of sources, ranging from ones you can control (social media and ecommerce sites, for example) to ones you can’t (like public records like real estate and court documents).
Then, over time, sketchy websites - the kinds of weird spammy aggregators - we call them “Data Brokers” - that come up when you type your name into a search engine - gather all that up and sell it to anyone who’s interested, with results ranging from annoying to dangerous. DeleteMe helps you get your information off of those sites.
What inspired the creation of the company?
DeleteMe was actually inspired by another product offered by our parent company, Abine. The product, called Blur, lets you surf and shop anonymously by using alias credentials.
People loved it, but for some users, the cat was already out of the bag, so to speak. Blur helps anyone keep their personal info private by not giving it out. But what about the information that was already out there, before they started using Blur?
So, because our customers asked for it, we created DeleteMe.
How does the process work? How are you able to scrape various sources to remove sensitive data? Is it all done by programs, or do you have real people also working on it?
These data broker / “people search” sites purposefully make it difficult to remove information from them - they make money by scraping, buying, and selling your data, so they make the process cumbersome to take control of your own data.
As a result, we have to use a combination of technology and hands-on work by our privacy experts to make them comply with our requests. We’re helped somewhat by local and federal regulations, but - at least today in most places - collecting and selling consumers personal info isn’t technically illegal, so our experts have to comply with each site’s processes and rules for opting-out or “taking our customers’ information off their site.”
If anyone wants to try this themselves instead of paying for DeleteMe, we encourage it. We actually publish all the opt-out processes for every data broker on our site and encourage anyone who wants to do it themselves, for free.
In addition to individuals, you also offer business plans right? How do those work
That’s correct - we already serve more than half of the Fortune 50. In addition to individuals who value their privacy, a lot of institutions are realizing the value of protecting executive and employee privacy, too.
You can probably think of a lot of reasons why companies, schools, police departments, political campaigns, and so on want to protect the people who work for and with them. Having a bunch of personal information out there can lead to phishing, stalking, doxxing, spamming, robocalls, identity theft, and more - we want to help curtail that.
Do you have any tips for people on how to protect their online identity?
The low-hanging fruit is always stuff you post voluntarily, usually on social media. Unfortunately, though, some of your personal information is a matter of public record - voting rolls, legal and business documents, etc.
The best way to protect yourself from the effects of your information being out there is to take it out of the hands of these aggregators, either with a service like ours or by doing it yourself.
To the latter point, we have a DIY guide for getting your information offline - doing something similar to what we do - although it takes real effort to do it yourself, it’s not technically hard. So, do it yourself or if you want to save time, the privacy experts at DeleteMe can do that work for you.
Anything you'd like to close with?
There’s a lot of exciting new legislation being proposed in almost every state in the country slated for voting on soon, in 2019 and 2020. We see a groundswell of support by politicians and citizens to make it easier to take back control of personal information. This is good news and will help everyone get more privacy online.
I'd like to thank Rob for taking the time to answer some of my questions.
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