FAQ: Online Data Brokers & People Search Sites

Every month through our online question & complaint center, we receive numerous inquiries about online data brokers and “People Search” sites. Here are some of the questions we see most frequently, along with our best answers:

My personal information and/or information about my family is published online without my consent. How is this legal?
According to the FTC, there are currently no federal laws that prevent companies from publishing this kind of information on the Internet, even if the published information is inaccurate. The information you see on people search sites is typically “public information” – collected from public or semi-public records. You could find yourself listed in these directories by purchasing a house, getting married, filing for divorce, filling out a survey, obtaining a driver’s license, getting arrested, creating a social media profile, or even voting. It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly how your information was added to these lists, and public records vary from state-to-state. Online data brokers are very rarely transparent about where their data comes from.

Having my home address and phone number available online is a hazard to my personal safety. Are there any laws to protect me?
There are currently no federal laws to regulate what data brokers may publish about victims of crime or public officials. However, California state law allows certain individuals limited protection from having their personal information posted online by data brokers. This is part of the address confidentiality program called “Safe at Home” which gives victims of stalking, domestic violence, and sexual assault the ability to request their information be removed from people search sites. "Safe at Home" also applies to public safety, elected, and appointed officials as well as reproductive healthcare employees, patients, and volunteers.

Can employers use people search sites or online data brokers to conduct background checks?
Most people search sites are not designed to be used for employment screening purposes. If in doubt, review the online terms of service to see if they state anything about whether information can be used to conduct background checks. If you're interested in seeing what information employers might be able to find in your background, the LexisNexis Full File Disclosure and Accurint reports are a good way to do so without running a full official background check on yourself.

My contact information, like address and phone number, is published on several different websites. How do I remove it?
Some people search sites offer the ability to opt out, while others do not. Review our List of Online Data Brokers to see which of the websites provide a mechanism to opt-out. Instructions can usually be found via the privacy policy or terms of service, if they are available. Some online data brokers require individuals to send in a state-issued ID to verify their identity. Understandably, this step makes some people uncomfortable and as a result these individuals may choose not to proceed with the opt-out procedures.

What can I do about online data brokers?
People sometimes reach out to us just because they want to get involved in raising awareness about the potential harms of online data brokers. Here are some ways you can make a difference:

  • Submit complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and your state Attorney General. (Please note that the FTC and state Attorney General do not act on behalf of individuals, but may launch an investigation if they receive enough complaints about a particular company or industry.)
  • Organize with others who share your concerns. Organizations that assist victims of domestic violence and stalking, for example, may be actively monitoring these proposals and testifying at public hearings. To find links to assistance groups across the country, visit the National Network to End Domestic Violence website. 
  • Contact your representatives on the local, state and federal levels and let them know about this issue and why you feel it is important that consumers have control of their personal information.

Do you have a question about online data brokers or people search sites? Create an account and ask us here. (Or you can submit an anonymous complaint instead.)