How do I compel removal of my personal info from Internet searches?
June 15, 2010 11:21 AM   Subscribe

What legal recourse do I have to force a publisher of my personal information on the Internet to remove it?

I recently did a Pipl search and found that a specific site was publishing detailed address and personal information without my permission. The site in question does not have any sort of opt-out, and I have not been able to contact the site owner via email or phone (the domain is registered in the state of Maine and the owner's name/address are listed).

What sort of legal recourse (if any) do I have? I realize the information is culled from public records, but I'd really rather not make it quite so easy for someone to commit identity theft.
posted by QuestionableSwami to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As someone who used to work for a company that had a site that constantly fot "take my personal information off your site!!!!!!!" requests I never understood this. The information in question was culled from websites. From searches. From Google searches. That you or I could perform.

The people who are going to commit identity theft are, generally, a bit more sophisticated than people who use these aggregated sites.

If you don't want the information out there you shouldn't share it with the source.

But to actually answer your question - go to the host. They or their upstream provider will lean on them and if you make enough noise they'll cave. It's all about the noise. Sadly.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:35 AM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Probably none. What "personal information" are we talking about? Your address? Sorry, there is no right to keep other people from knowing or publishing your address.

The site in question does not have any sort of opt-out, and I have not been able to contact the site owner via email or phone (the domain is registered in the state of Maine and the owner's name/address are listed).

Trying to stop this in these circumstances is like pissing up a rope.
posted by grouse at 11:37 AM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your address is, in all likelihood, public knowledge from tax records and such. You can't force these sites to take down your info, and there's no point in trying.

Unless you're being persistently stalked by someone, there's no reason that this information needs to be hidden, other than the *squick* feeling you seem to get from knowing its out there.

If it helps, think about it this way. If all an identity thief needed was a name and an address, the phone book would give them access to hundreds of thousands of easy targets. Most people have not been targets of identity theft.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:00 PM on June 15, 2010

I'm not sure exactly which of Pipl's sources you're worried about, but the data they're showing in general is a matter of public record; you do not have any legal recourse to force them to remove it short of a court order (for abuse victims, witness protection or the like; "I fear identity theft" is probably not sufficient.) Some data sources will have an opt-out policy, but that's voluntary on their part; if they don't, they don't.

There is a lot of discussion about this sort of thing here -- some of it rather fear-mongering and much of it ungrammatical, but most appears to be accurate for all that -- but before you go too far down this road, these bits are probably the most relevant:
Thanks for Internet and newly passed laws such as Open Public Records Act or Public Records Act from different states, databases such court records, county property records, state records are open to public to search online. People search databases obtained your data from OVER 20,000 publicly available government records and commercial data sources, the information obtained is from legal sources.
most sensitive personal information can be found from online public records in various states and counties.

How to remove information from public records in the states and counties? Some states and counties would allow you to remove/block some personal records from showing in the public through legal process.

In most cases, it would require a court order to stop showing your private information from state or county public records.
On the bright side, somebody might send you a pizza.
posted by ook at 12:30 PM on June 15, 2010

Response by poster: Just for the record, we are not talking address information here. We are talking about birthdate, information on relatives, etc. The sort of thing that you could use to try and get past the cursory checks banks and other businesses use for security.

I know I could easily take this information and with a little work and common sense put together enough information to have pretty good shot at pirating someone's identity.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 12:41 PM on June 15, 2010

Birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates are all public record information. I don't think you have any recourse at all when it comes to that stuff.

I think the real answer here is to make sure your bank has better security procedures in place than asking your mother's maiden name.
posted by ook at 1:02 PM on June 15, 2010

With a little work and common sense, you could easily find this information without using the web sites in question, for both you and millions of other Americans. Even if the web site owners were doing something actionable, and it does not appear that they are, they have already shown that they're not too interested in being contacted, and getting them to comply with a court order would be a lot of work.

ook has the right idea. If you are worried about security, make sure that your financial institutions do not use this publicly available information as a password.
posted by grouse at 1:06 PM on June 15, 2010

I should make myself a little more clear. I'm not dismissing your concerns. In fact, I think you are right to be concerned. However, you have no special reason to be concerned any more than any other person, and there is precious little you can do to remove this information from public availability. The problem is not that your birth date and mother's maiden name are available, but that someone thinks knowledge of your birth date and mother's maiden name can authenticate you. You might be able to do something about that if you contact businesses that do this and ask for a password to be put on the account, saying you have reason to believe you might be the subject of "identity theft."
posted by grouse at 1:16 PM on June 15, 2010

I've had this kind of information taken down before. You can see the back and forth between me and the founders of the site I was complaining about here. Since it was clear that the content was coming from Facebook, I actually contacted Facebook about it. They removed my profile.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:01 PM on June 15, 2010

Don't use publically available information as your security questions.

I, too, don't like this stuff. I am blessed with a name that is almost completely ungooglable, but I understand the feeling.

Unfortunately, what these people are saying is true. This is all "public domain" information. Your identity isn't personal or private.
posted by gjc at 4:29 PM on June 15, 2010

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