Online Information Broker FAQ


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Copyright © 2010-2014
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Posted October 4, 2010
Revised May 2013

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse receives numerous inquiries about online information brokers. We’ve compiled this page to address some of the questions we get most frequently.  While we hope this page addresses all of your questions, we keep a list of grievances against specific companies. If you would like us to add your complaint to our database, please submit your complaint by visiting https://www.privacyrights.org/new-complaint.

Learn more about information brokers by reading our Online Information Brokers and Your Privacy and viewing our List of Online Information Brokers.

1. My personal information and the information about my family is published on the Internet without my consent. Is that legal?

2.  My personal information, like my address and phone number, is published on several different websites.  How do I remove it?

3.  My age is published online.  My career is very public, and it’s important that I keep my age secret. What can I do?

4.  Is anything being done about online information brokers?

5.  I am enrolled in an address confidentiality program but I am still listed on online information broker websites. What can I do?

6. I am a California public official. How can I get my personal data off the Internet?

7.  How did my information get listed in these online directories?

8.  My information is listed in genealogy websites such as Ancestry.com. What can I do to remove it?

9.  I found an information broker not in your list.  To whom should I submit it?

10.  I am an employer. Can I use online information brokers to conduct background checks?

11.  What government agency regulates online information brokers?

12  How can I complain about online information brokers?

13. What can I do?
 

1.  My personal information and the information about my family is published on the Internet without my consent. Is that legal?  
The information compiled by online information brokers is typically “public information” – available through public records. At this time, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse does not know of any laws that have been used to prevent or stop companies from publishing this kind of information about regular citizen on the Internet.  Read more about public records in PRC Fact Sheet 11: From Cradle to Grave: Government Records and Your Privacy.  


2.  My personal information, like my address and phone number, is published on several different websites.  How do I remove it?
There is no central location where you can opt-out of all information broker lists.  In fact, some offer no mechanism to opt-out whatsoever.  Review our List of Online Information Brokers to see which of the websites provide a mechanism to opt-out. Generally, instructions are in either the privacy policy or terms of service, if they are available.  Some information brokers require individuals to send in a state-issued ID to verify identity. This makes some individuals uncomfortable and as a result these individuals may choose not to proceed with the opt-out procedures.


3.  My age is published online.  My career is very public, and it’s important that I keep my age secret. What can I do?
Websites that publish your age in online directories are technically publishing public information.  Privacy Rights Clearinghouse is not aware of any laws that are violated by posting this information if it is accurate.  We suggest that you contact the website and ask them to remove the information.  Look at the privacy policy and terms of service to see if there is a mechanism of opting-out.   


4. Is anything being done about online information brokers?
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), describing problems that individuals have had with online information brokers and calling for an investigation of this industry.  We do not yet know of any legislation or regulations that have been proposed in this arena.  Please bookmark this page and we will update the information here when legislation and/or regulations are proposed.  The World Privacy Forum has also submitted a complaint to the FTC on information brokers, and the FTC has settled with one such information broker for its deceptive business practices.


5. I am enrolled in an address confidentiality program but I am still listed on online information broker websites. What can I do?
Some information brokers that do not offer an opt out, may enable you to remove your listing if you are enrolled in an address confidentiality program. You will need to contact each such information broker individually. See our List of Online Information Brokers.

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse is interested in hearing your story. If you are enrolled in an address confidentiality program, are at risk of physical harm as a result of your personal information being publicly available, or have been unable to get out of an online information broker database even after making them aware of the protected status of your information, we are interested in hearing from you.  If you may be willing to speak out of this issue and would like to discuss the possibility of sharing your story with legislators or the media, please file a complaint by visiting https://www.privacyrights.org/new-complaint.

6. I am a California public official. How can I get my personal data off the Internet?

California public officials have the right under California Government Code section 6254.21 to have their home addresses and telephone numbers removed from the Internet.  This form can be used to communicate with information brokers: http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/Califpublicofficialsform.pdf


7. How did my information get listed in these online directories?
Typically, the information in the online information broker directories is compiled from public and 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, establishing a social networking profile, or voting.  It is often difficult to pinpoint exactly how your information was added to these lists.  Typically, information brokers are not transparent about where their data comes from. 

8. My information is listed in genealogy websites such as Ancestry.com. What can I do to remove it?
Genealogy websites are just like other online information brokers.  If they have an opt-out procedure, you can submit a request to opt-out.  If they do not offer a mechanism to opt-out, then Privacy Rights Clearinghouse knows of no laws that would require them to allow consumers to opt-out.  Furthermore we know of no laws that would prevent these sites from listing a Social Security number of a deceased individual on an online genealogy website.  These Social Security numbers are taken from the Death Master File, administered by the Social Security Administration. Learn more about the Death Master File by visiting US Department of Commerce webpage about the Social Security Administration's Death Master File.

Learn about identity theft of the deceased by visiting ID Theft Resource Center's ID Theft and the Deceased.

9. I found an information broker not in your list.  To whom should I submit it?
Please email the website URL, a URL for the privacy policy and a URL for the Terms of Service (or equivalent) to webmaster at privacyrights dot org.  If you cannot find the privacy policy and/or terms of service, please feel free to submit the website anyway.  If you were able to opt-out, please let us know.

10. I am an employer. Can I use online information brokers to conduct background checks?
Most online information brokers are not designed to be used for employment purposes.  Review the online terms of service to see if they state anything about whether information can be used for employment purposes.  If you are interested in conducting a background check, you should contact a legitimate employment background checking company. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse does not recommend a particular background checking company.  Visit the National Association of Professional Background Screeners website. Members of NAPBS must follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act and meet certain standards.
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11. What government agency regulates online information brokers?
Currently, the online information broker industry is largely unregulated.  We suggest you submit complaints to the FTC and your state's Attorney General. (See next question)

12. How can I complain about online information brokers?
Complaints should be submitted to the Federal Trade Commission (https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/) and your state Attorney General (http://www.naag.org/current-attorneys-general.php). Please be aware that the FTC and state Attorney General will not act on behalf of an individual consumer, but may launch an investigation if they receive enough complaints about a particular company or industry.  

13. What can I do?
Many individuals contact us who want to get involved in raising awareness about the online information broker industry.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Submit complaints. (See previous question.)
  •  If your own county agencies are considering posting public records online, let your county supervisors know of your concerns. Attend public meetings on this issue and weigh in, both in written and in oral testimony.
  • 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 website of the National Network to End Domestic Violence
  • Many state court organizations have formed task forces to discuss the privacy and access of online court records. And many have published policies on this topic. For more information about the topic of privacy and online court records, visit the National Center for State Court's website. See its state-by-state lists of such policies.
  • 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.
Copyright © Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. This copyrighted document may be copied and distributed for nonprofit, educational purposes only. For distribution, see our copyright and reprint guidelines. The text of this document may not be altered without express authorization of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.


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