Mar 11, 2014
Privacy Tools: How to Opt Out From Data Brokers
Posted on Jan 31, 2014
By Julia Angwin, ProPublica
In the course of writing my book, Dragnet Nation, I tried various strategies to protect my privacy. In this series of blog posts, I try to distill the lessons from my privacy experiments into a series of useful tips for readers.
Data brokers have been around forever, selling mailing lists to companies that send junk mail. But in today’s data-saturated economy, data brokers know more information than ever about us, with sometimes disturbing results.
Earlier this month, OfficeMax sent a letter to a grieving father addressed to “daughter killed in car crash.” And in December, privacy expert Pam Dixon testified in Congress that she had found data brokers selling lists with titles such as “Rape Sufferers” and “Erectile Dysfunction sufferers.” And retailers are increasingly using this type of data to make from decisions about what credit card to offer people or how much to charge individuals for a stapler.
During my book research, I sought to obtain the data that brokers held about me. At first, I was excited to be reminded of the address of my dorm room and my old phone numbers. But thrill quickly wore off as the reports rolled in. I was equally irked by the reports that were wrong 2014 data brokers who thought I was a single mother with no education 2014 as I was by the ones that were correct 2014 is it necessary for someone to track that I recently bought underwear online? So I decided to opt out from the commercial data brokers.
Still, I achieve some minor successes: A search for my name on some of the largest people-search websites, such as Intelius and Spokeo, yields no relevant results.
So, for those who want to try my strategy, here are the two spreadsheets I put together with the names of companies that track your information, links to their privacy pages, and instructions on how to opt out, in the cases where they offered them.
The first spreadsheet below is a list of data brokers who will give you copies of your data. (You can scroll around inside the box below, and you can also download your own copy of the spreadsheet, here.) The second is the list of data brokers from whom I sought to opt-out, with the ones that allowed opt-outs highlighted. (Download that one here.)
Companies that let you download your data:
All of the companies I tried to opt out of:
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