How to Get Off Online Directories

by KimberleyLaws

Take control of your privacy! Learn how you can remove your private information from online directory sites.

Googling yourself is fun. You type in your name, press enter, and “poof”—there you are. Yes, you have to ignore the results that belong to people who have the audacity to have the same name as you. If your last name is “Smith,” you may have to do more “ignoring” than the German-born typesetter whose surname is 590 letters long. But that’s okay. You are happy to see that the internet knows you exist.

There’s a link to your Facebook page, your LinkedIn profile, and your Twitter account.  So far, so good.  You scroll your mouse down a little further and furrow your brows in disbelief.  Who the heck are Peek You, Spokeo, People Finder, and  And how do they know so much about me? 

Holy crap!  Have they been spying on me?
Holy crap! Have they been spying on me?

Online directories have an uncanny ability to collect your personal data and share it with anyone who has access to the internet.  Here are a few steps that you can take to, hopefully, reclaim your privacy. 

Engage in Damage Control

If your phone number and address are listed in online telephone directories, you may wish to contact your telephone company and request an unlisted phone number.  This will greatly boost your privacy factor—as long as you are careful about sharing this unlisted number in the future. 

You should also close down any social media tools that you don’t use on a regular basis.  This will make it much easier to keep tabs on your internet profile and the information that is out there. 

Abandon your Facebook farms, castles, zoos, and whatever other virtual paradises you have been busily creating.  The companies that offer games to Facebook users have access to your private information, but are much more lax about protecting it.                   

Abandoning your sheep and bunnies may be difficult--but your internet privacy is worth it.
Abandoning your sheep and bunnies may...

Opt Out

Many online directories do offer the ability to “opt out” of their programs, but be careful.  If the website makes money by selling your personal details, they will not make it easy for you to escape. 

Carefully read the instructions for each directory’s opting out process.  And beware.  Some will ask you for detailed personal information—some even require that you scan and fax your I.D.  This is where it gets tricky.  Do you provide personal information to a company that deals in selling personal information just to get less sensitive personal information removed from the internet?  Confusing, isn’t it?  While the online directory does need to verify your identify, there is always the fear that your personal details will be passed on and used somewhere else. 

Others may require you to register for their site before you can opt out.  And some information dealers will demand a fee in order to have your information removed. 

If an online directory does not offer an opting out option, send them an e-mail requesting that they suppress your private information.  It is important to realize that opting out does not guarantee that your info won’t simply appear somewhere else. 

Having private info erased is no easy feat.
Having private info erased is no easy...

Become the Squeaky Wheel

If you go through the opting out process and are dissatisfied with the results—or if the entire “opting out” process frightens you in the first place—you can lodge a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.  While they do not deal with complaints on a one-to-one basis, they will take action against companies that have repeated complaints filed against them.

If you are feeling particularly feisty, recruit friends and relations to lodge complaints too. 

The louder you are, the harder you are to ignore.
The louder you are, the harder you ar...

Removing yourself from online directories is a tricky—and often futile—endeavor.  The best way to maintain your privacy is to avoid over-sharing your information in the first place.  If a company wants you to fill out your life story to enter a contest, you have to ask yourself what is more important—winning a lifetime supply of puppy kibble or protecting your personal information.  If you choose the kibble, be prepared to find your John Doe on an on-line directory or two. 

Do you have an online directory horror story that you’d like to share?  

Updated: 04/28/2013, KimberleyLaws
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