Finding your contact information listed on data broker websites like Spokeo, AnyWho or InstantPeopleFinder can be a scary experience. For just a few dollars, anyone can sign up on these sites and access your personal information, which can include phone numbers, addresses, court records, and even lists of your family members and where they live.
Stalkers or harassers can easily use sites like these to help launch their attacks. (Not to mention that these sites sell your info to companies to help them target you with ads. Ugh.)
I wanted my personal info off of these kinds of sites. But I didn’t want to spend forever doing it. So I decided to try Abine’s Delete.me, based on a recommendations from several friends in the tech space.
Delete.me refers to itself as “a service that removes your name, email, addresses and more from online data brokers who profit from collecting and selling this information.” On its landing page, it says that the service works through 4 steps: 1) you sign up and submit names for removal, 2) operators search and remove, 3) a removal report is sent in 7 days, and 4) Abine continues to remove your data quarterly.
After trying Abine’s Delete.me, here are a few things I learned:
1. It takes time. Budget around 30 minutes to go through the registration process.
2. It helps to compile a list of what you need in advance--including an identification document, former addresses, and phone numbers you’ve used.
3. It takes a full week (7 days) to get your privacy report.
4. It can feel personally distressing to give your personal information to a website, especially if you’ve been harassed online. (But there’s really no way around it, and I had to accept that I’d need to enter that info in order to get it removed from data broker sites. )
5. It helps to have someone sit next to you while you do it, to talk out steps or just be there for moral support.
Here’s the rundown of what it takes to register, and my tips and final thoughts on the process.
Registering (Time it took me: 4 minutes)
-Go to abine.com/deleteme to register for a personal account (you can sign up for two people or even a family account).
-You have to use an email address to sign up, and a password. I used my password manager to remember.
-No phone number is required.
-You also have to enter a billing address, and then credit card information.
-The subscription automatically renews every year.
Tip: Set a reminder if you want to cancel automatic renewal and use the URL abine.com/deleteme to get a 20% discount.
Filling Out Your Profile (Total time it took me: 17 minutes)
Activating An Account
-I had to enter personal information to get email verification. The email went to my Spam folder.
-Then, I had to click on the account icon, which required me to log in again.
Tips: Have the Delete.me password handy (i.e. in your password manager) to log in again, and check your Spam folder for the confirmation email.
Name and Phone Numbers(Time it took me: 5 minutes)
-I entered my full name here. It also asks for any aliases you’ve ever used.
-This page asks for all the phone numbers you’ve ever used or currently use. But it doesn’t specify Google Voice numbers, and I wasn’t sure if I should put my office numbers and/or my parents’ phone number. Also, it took me a while to look through my phone to see any old saved numbers of mine, and googling my old offices’ numbers.
Addresses You’d Like Removed (Time it took me: 8 minutes)
-Since I’ve lived at more than a dozen places in my life, it took me a while to complete this page. Entering each of my addresses took a little under a minute each, and that’s just for the ones I remembered!
-I also wasn’t sure how far back to go, and whether to include work addresses or not. Should I include where I lived in college? The place I lived when I had a two month summer internship? My ex-partner’s house?
-The webpage states that you should "Be sure to include all previous addresses you would like removed! We cannot remove a profile with an address that is not included here. If you can't remember the full address, simply provide the city and state.”
Tips: Have a credit report handy or some other documentation of your past addresses! Otherwise you could be in for a lot of googling.
Identification Card (Time it took me: 3 minutes)
-You have to take a photo of your primary identification card, which for me was a driver’s license, and upload it.
Tips: Have your main ID card handy, and mask the photo and numbers in the ID card you upload for added security.
Confirm and Submit (Time it took to read confirmation page: 1 minute)
-The site then directed me to a confirmation page with all the information I’d entered during registration (including names, phone numbers, addresses, and my ID card).
-There wasn’t a place for me to enter any past emails before getting to this step. I wonder why the Delete.me team didn’t include this step.
-Once I hit Enter to confirm, a page popped up telling me that my privacy protection program is in process, and that my first report would come in 7 days. The next report after that would come the following quarter.
Limits of Abine
Using Abine’s Delete.me service felt like I was taking preventative action. But I don’t think I’d feel much better after using this service if I were experiencing online attacks and wanted to act fast. It takes seven days to get your first report, after all. And if you’re in the midst of a crisis, that can feel like an eternity.
I also felt less confident in what the service promised once I read Delete.me’s FAQs. For one, subscribing to Delete.me doesn’t mean that all data broker sites no longer have access to my information. This is because “some sites do not offer an opt-out procedure,” since they are either based outside of the U.S. or “collect their information from social networks, public search results,” and other search databases. (For the record, Delete.me also cannot delete Google search results or blog posts, articles, or legal records, but they do publish a free online guide to help you do this on your own).
There’s also no guarantee my information won’t get reposted on data broker sites if I let my Delete.me subscription lapse. And I don’t necessarily want to fork over $120 a year indefinitely. So, definitely consider cost constraints when you’re deciding whether or not to use the service.
My Privacy Report
As promised, I got my first privacy report seven days later (you can see the first page below). What I learned was this:
- Eleven of the 25 sites listed require up to six weeks to remove my information.
- Two sites (Spokeo and PeekYou) didn’t have my information listed.
- Only two sites--addresses.com and Advanced Background Checks--removed my information as soon as the opt-out request was sent.
A Little Guidance
Before you sign up for Delete.me, think about why you’re using it. Do you want to limit what information is available about you online? Or are you facing online threats at this moment? There may be other steps you should take first before you try Delete.me.
If you do try it out, consider having someone you trust go through the process with you. My colleague Katie was there when I did it, and she was a helpful sounding board as a I talked through the different steps out loud.