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While Facebook, Google, and Apple Dominate the Headlines for Privacy, it’s People Search Sites You Should be More Concerned With

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Last Modified Date: Jun 27, 2021

While Facebook, Google, and Apple dominate the headlines for impact on your privacy, it’s a different set of companies you should be more concerned with. Big Tech makes an easy target for politicians, and has rightly been taken to task for being irresponsible with your data, but they are a veritable Fort Knox with your personal information compared to the sites known as People Search Directories that we focus on at Optery.

Sites like Radaris, SocialCatfish, InstantCheckmate, TruthFinder, CellRevealer, and WhitePages are used to find long lost friends, but they can also be used by your adversaries to gather information that can be used against you.

Companies like ThatsThem and SmartBackgroundChecks post personal email addresses and cell phone numbers in plain text on the open internet for anyone see. This information can be used for identity theft and phishing attempts. Companies like PeopleFinders have sell pages up for nearly every adult in the U.S. offering a detailed report on you starting at $1.95. Most frustrating are the companies that make you jump through hoops to opt out. Radaris and WhitePages actually require your personal cell phone number for text message verification before they will honor your opt out.

The big money in personal data is for creating precisely targeted digital advertisements. This is why most of the posturing in politics and the media is centered around the large platforms for online advertising.

But what’s more disturbing to you? Seeing a retargeted ad on Facebook or Google? Or visiting a People Search Site landing page about you that’s posted to the open internet like this?

ThatsThem Data Broker Opt Out

Most people we speak with find People Search Sites more threatening and would like to be removed from them ASAP, but the task is too daunting for most to act, and oftentimes to even comprehend. First, there are over 150+ of these sites to keep track of, with more emerging regularly. Second, each site has a slightly different opt out procedure, some make it easy to opt out, others make it much more difficult or impractical (e.g. requiring you to disclose your cell phone number in order to opt out). Third, data brokers are inconsistent in how long they honor opt outs and some privacy laws (e.g. the CCPA) permit data brokers to disregard your opt out after 1 year, so ongoing monitoring and re-submitting opt outs is necessary on an ongoing basis. Fourth, since these sites are mostly “out of sight and out of mind” (unlike the Big Tech companies), a false sense of security and complacency is the norm.

When you see TV and billboard ads for companies like Apple, DuckDuckGo, and Firefox, who differentiate themselves on protecting your privacy, it’s important to be clear on what aspect of your privacy they are protecting.

  • Apple allows you to prevent the apps you use from syndicating your activity across devices and to other companies.
  • DuckDuckGo keeps your web and app search activity private.
  • Firefox prevents shadowy third parties from tracking your web browsing activities by blocking third party trackers, beacons and cookies by default.

These privacy features are all great in their own right, but they do not remove you from People Search Sites that broadcast your contact information and personal details out in the open web for anyone to have for free, or purchase like this:

How Can Optery Help?

At Optery, before anything else, we give you visibility into the type of information that’s currently being posted and sold about you at ~100 People Search Sites. We provide this in the form of custom dynamically generated URLs in your account Dashboard, and a PDF Exposure Report with screenshots delivered by email typically within a few hours after your sign up (for free). People’s jaws usually drop when they scroll through their first PDF Exposure Report and see just how exposed they are to anyone in the world with a web browser.

Optery locates ~60 profiles exposed at data brokers, per user, on average

If you’re unhappy seeing images about you similar to what you see above, and you want to take action to have your profiles removed, we provide free and paid options for removing yourself from 150+ people search sites in our database. We manage your opt outs behind the scenes, and your personal email address is never shared with the data brokers when we submit your opt outs.

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