What the Tech? Can You Get Your Personal Information Removed from the Internet?
A few weeks ago I spent part of the morning sharing a website with a few folks in a coffee shop. I asked them to enter their name or phone number in the search bar at familytreenow.com.
Within a few seconds, the website displayed a lot of their personal information such as name, email address, phone numbers, family members, people they may be associated with, and their street address. Not only did it show their current street address familytreenow displayed a Google Streetview of every place they’ve ever lived.
When I checked my own name I saw an overhead photo of an apartment I lived in during part of the 80s along with my parents’ information and every email address and phone number I can remember having.
It was frightening but not all that surprising.
FamilyTreeNow is one of several websites that combs public records along with information on social media and even dating apps. If it’s on the internet somewhere, the information is likely to be brushed up with the results.
FamilyTreeNow offers to remove a listing simply by asking or clicking on a button and responding to a return email. It says the removal should take around 48 hours. I reached out to FamilyTreeNow in May for an explanation but never received a response. This week I decided to see if they really did omit my listing from their site.
It did not. Everything I found over a month ago is still listed. The disturbing truth is that even if familytreenow removed my information it was still going to turn up on one of the other company websites. On one of those sites you can search for and locate anyone’s information and find out if they’ve ever had so much as a speeding ticket.
The fact is, no matter how often you ask one of these companies to remove your information, it’s still going to be available online somewhere. So what can you do?
Namely, take responsibility for your personal information. Reconsider signing up for every newsletter, website, and app that asks for your phone number or street address. Remove your phone number from being visible on Facebook. If a friend needs to contact you, they can use Messenger to text or call.
Search your email inbox for the words “signup”, “welcome”, “your membership” to locate welcome emails from companies you’ve probably already forgotten about.
Ancestors or genealogy kits likely have you included in the DNA database even if you never signed up. Someone in your family likely has and included at least some of your information in their family tree.
It’s critical to stay at the top of your personal and private information. Check your credit reports frequently. Some hackers and cybercriminals can find enough information to take out a credit card in your name or the name of your children.
If you find your name listed on these websites and the companies do not remove your information from their databases, report them to the Better Business Bureau and leave a comment and review. FamilyTreeNow has replied to those reviews and offered to remove the information from the site.
Google your name, your phone number, your street address to see where else you may be listed online.
It takes work and time to protect your privacy.