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Data Opt-Out

Data Opt-Out information | PeopleSmart

Data Opt-Out

It is possible to limit the availability of data about you, starting first at the actual government offices that hold public records containing information about you. In the United States it has long been a matter of public policy to keep records that are vital to maintain and document a smoothly functioning community and to make these records open for public inspection.

Is it possible to remove my name from all public records?

Documents relating to real property sales, transfers, and encumbrances; civil and criminal legal actions; voter registration; business licenses and fictitious name operations; corporate and limited liability addresses and their agents for service of process; and a host of other matters are, and have long been, available for inspection by members of the public upon request.

The chief difference between information available in public records even as late as the 1990s and today is that the Internet makes it possible to collect the disparate strands of public records data into one place and make it easily searchable. In 1990, if you suspected a person was involved in a lawsuit but didn’t know where, you’d have to go to every county and federal court jurisdiction in the country and do an individual search for that person’s name and then review paper records contained in files or look at microfilm images on a large image reading machine; likewise with records of property owned in other counties and states.

Today, electronic copies of public records from all the local jurisdictions around the country may be collected in a single database and searched. It’s not that there is necessarily more public-record information today than in the past, but rather that modern technology makes the vast amount of public-record information that’s always been out there easier to access.

Is there any way to get the government to modify its public records about me?

Yes. You do this by directly visiting the government office, typically the county clerk, that holds public records containing information about you. Review the records and determine what information is out there. If you find personal information that you would rather not be made public, ask the clerk what the policy is regarding changes to records. It may be possible to redact all or most of your social security number as well as phone numbers and in some cases addresses. If it is not possible to redact your address, consider getting a PO box. Some clerk offices will allow updating of data to substitute a PO box number for a physical street address. With respect to civil and criminal court case records, it is sometimes possible to have records sealed. You goal is to ensure that only truly essential information, necessary to create a legally effective document, is contained in public records that mention you.

If someone is stalking me, how can I keep my address from being easily discovered?

While many people are not concerned that their address may be available from public records documents, if you are being bothered by someone who does not already know your address, you’ll want to limit your location information.

There are some practical things you can do to try to keep your whereabouts confidential. Getting a PO box and using it for as many purposes as possible will go a long way to anonymize your location. Have all your bills sent to your PO box, or pay them online only, and use your PO box when signing up for any product or service online.

In addition, pursue your online "opt-out" options. For example, people search sites are a common way to locate people you want to find. Responsible people search sites, including PeopleSmart, provide consumers with an effective way of "opting out" or being removed or limited in scope from the database’s search results. Each site will have its own prescribed means for effecting removal from its content, with a different turnaround time for completing the deletion, but taking the time to follow up with each site can further shield your address information.

It is also a good idea to follow the advice above regarding removal of sensitive information from records held by government offices. That way if any people search site collects public-records information such information will already be redacted or limited in the appropriate way.

There are other ways, too, to limit your informational footprint. One major source of address data for people is voter registration rolls. Such rolls are public records and by law require that you provide an actual street address, not a PO box. The only thing you can do to assure your address won’t be given to third parties is to remove yourself from the voter registration roll.

Likewise, public records reflecting the address of real property require the owner to be listed. If your address is a home you own, then a search of your name at the county clerk’s office will reveal your address. Consider transferring your home to a trust or setting up a limited liability company with a name unrelated to you to hold the property. That way a search using your name will not reveal any property at all.

Can I keep other personal data from being revealed on the Internet?

The surest way to keep personal information from being revealed is to limit the amount of it you voluntarily make available. If you are active on social networks, read their privacy policy. See what they do with the information you post to their site. Establish your privacy settings to "friends only" or whatever is the equivalent of limiting access to only persons you’ve approved. And be sure to refrain from revealing key personal details in your posts, because you can never be sure how far the information will travel. Posting information about your upcoming three week vacation to Europe may be exciting, but coupled with your address, it could be quite valuable information for would-be thieves.

How can I keep negative information from appearing in search engine results about me?

You can’t really eliminate the negative, absent a court’s order, but you can render it mostly harmless by accentuating the positive in the form of new information that effectively pushes the bad news into obscurity in a process sometimes called "burying."

A relatively easy way to do this is to create numerous new profile pages about you using the most common websites that appear frequently in search engine results. These include Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Blogger, Wordpress, Flickr, Quora, Reddit, and Digg. Any site with a lot of traffic on which you can set up a profile, post, and interact with others will help your efforts. Make sure that the new profile name matches the negative content name. Also, make sure the new positive content contains key words from the result you want to bury. It will also help to link your new profiles together, as the foregoing sites tend to rise in the search engine results as you link your profiles, a process that is further strengthened when you interact and become linked with other people.