Concerned about data privacy on the Internet? You should be

Author: Lenette Votava, OIT

Data Privacy Day

You might be surprised (and alarmed) to find out how much of your personal information is publicly available online.

You can find out by visiting a site such as spokeo.com and typing in your name and city. Publicly available is information such as your general age and the street you live on (with a map).

But by paying a small fee ($3.95 to $4.95 per month), anyone can access information including your phone number, email address, family members’ names, your occupation and education, the value of your home, current and previous addresses, and photos, videos and social network profiles that are publicly available.

Worried yet?

You CAN take steps to preserve your privacy online.

Start by Googling yourself and searching your name on other available search engines. Check periodically to keep tabs on what information is available about you and your family.

Sites such as pipl.com and spokeo.com specialize in harvesting public records information, LinkedIn profiles, public Facebook information, and even old MySpace accounts. This data is matched up and linked to an individual.

If you have a common name, personal information from others with the same name may be included under your name. For example, John Smith III can be easily confused with John Smith II (his father), because they likely lived in the same house for years. Additionally, data collectors often miss senior and junior designations.

If a family member or unrelated person who shares your name has bad credit, questionable history or other negative information available on the Internet, it is possible these undesirable records may be intermingled with your personal information.

What can you do to protect your name and personal information?

Type in your name in different search engines and find out what personal information is included under your name on the Internet.

To correct errors in the information listed with your name, you can file a correction request with the listing organization or the organization that maintains the original data (e.g., the Department of Motor Vehicles).

If you prefer not to have your information on these sites, you can request that your information be removed—although it can be a challenge. If the listing organization is unwilling to remove your information, you can contact one of several companies that specialize in cleaning up your online reputation and identity.

To remove your profile information from Spokeo, visit spokeo.com, scroll to the bottom of the front page and click “Privacy.” Scroll to the bottom of the page and follow the instructions.

Remember, your online identity can be viewed by anyone—including your employer, coworkers, students, family and friends. Be aware of where information exists and periodically review the content to ensure accuracy.

In addition, the sponsor of Data Privacy Day, StaySafeOnline.org, has joined with Reputation.com to offer victims and survivors of domestic violence the opportunity to safeguard privacy online and remove personal data from the Internet.

For additional information, go to staysafeonline.org/data-privacy-day.