What was once only available to those in our local communities is now available to anyone, anywhere in the world
Finding out someone’s address used to be kind of hard — or at least took some effort. I’m old enough to remember a time when you had to grab that brick called the “yellow pages” to search for someone’s address. We were taught how to do it in school: start with their last name and then run your finger down the teeny-tiny print until you found the first name that matched the person you were searching for. And, even then, the yellow pages only included people in your immediate area. Want to find the address of someone in New York City? Better get your hands on their phone book.
But gone are the days of manually searching for an address. In the era of data collection and the degradation of privacy, our addresses, phone numbers, ages — even family members — are exposed on data broker sites across the internet. What was once available to just the people in our towns is now available to anyone, anywhere in the world. So let’s take a look at the consequences of that.
Data brokers exposing your information could lead to a few major problems. The first: Stalking. If there’s a person who wants to find you in order to stalk you in person, it’s really easy to do so. Even if your information isn’t available for free, a determined stalker isn’t going to let a small fee stop them.
The second: Identity theft. Much of the personal information revealed on these data broker sites is identifying info that can be used to create fake profiles or even open bank accounts. They can also be used to hack into your accounts, especially if your passwords aren’t as strong as they should be. (No shame — that’s most of us! Check out these tips for strong passwords to get you on the right path.)
Not good. Not good at all.
There’s a whole industry built around selling people’s addresses and other personal information. I call them “people finder” sites, but really they’re just data brokers. Here’s a list of some of the sites where your information might be exposed:
I’m not going to link to them, because I don’t want to give them the backlinks, but take a minute to search for your name on one. Or, even better, search your name and “address” in your favorite search engine. You’ll see pretty quickly just how much information is out there that you never consented to making public.
I’ve moved a lot, much more than most people my age. In some ways, that’s good for my privacy: It’s harder to pin down which Emma McGowan I am. In other ways, though, it’s not good: It means there’s a lot more info out there for me to corral.
If I’d written this What Does The Internet Know About Me? two months ago, I would have found addresses dating back to my first apartment in New York City. Heck, I would have found my parents’ address! And I haven’t lived there since I was 17!
But, a couple of months ago, I started using the privacy protection tool on BrandYourself.com, which scans the data broker sites for any personal information out there and sends a takedown request. (Full disclosure: My brother is one of the founders of BrandYourself.) The site then continues to scan periodically in case one of the sites re-uploads your info. As a result, my addresses and other personal information that these sites peddle are nowhere to be found online anymore.
Your data belongs to you — not to data brokers. Your privacy is your own. As digital citizens, we have the right to control how our data are used. Take that control back today.
The concept of digital identity is fairly new and might sound complex, but it’s pretty easy to grasp. What’s more, most of us have one and it’s a lot more valuable than you think.
Social media and other online platforms are here to stay. Have that safety conversation with your child, and gather and activate security tools like Discord’s Family Center.