Give me back my data! The curse of personal information brokers

Data mining companies sell our personal data for pocket change, without a care for our personal privacy. It's time this travesty stopped.

Recently on Reddit, regular contributor LawyerCT presented a list of top sites that collect, store and sell access to your personal data, and provided the methods for removing yourself from these databases.

I'm an advocate for personal privacy online. People are entitled to be secure in the knowledge that their personal information doesn't fall into the hands of identity thieves and scammers.

As we've seen recently, groups like Anonymous and the offshoot LulzSec have proven that the lax security at companies we're expected to trust are incapable of keeping their promises.

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It's more than just security that's at issue here. There are a number of companies out there that collect your personal information, both public and private, and put it up for sale. In a nutshell, the entirety of their business is based upon invading your privacy. This doesn't even involve the information about yourself that you put on Twitter and Facebook.

Admittedly, most of the information that is available is on public record; if you own property, or have had legal issues that ended up in court, there is a record of it that is available to the public if they seek it. The data mining companies, however, make it a lot easier and cheaper to get at this information.

Not all of these sites are consistent. Some of them honor your phone number and address being unlisted from directory assistance. Others do not; I have found my unlisted address and phone number on several services. They gleefully advertise how you can get enough information on a person to make a stalker's day for as little as a dollar.

There was a time not so long ago when collecting this information would have taken weeks or months to acquire documents from various agencies, and it would cost hundreds of dollars. Isn't the information age great?

It gets worse. While LawyerCT did yeoman's work collecting the methods of removing yourself from these "services", there are a number of drawbacks. For one thing, information is currency to them. They don't want to let go of your data without a fight.

The methods they use are not only draconian in the way they make it difficult to get unlisted, they also require information about you that gives them exact confirmation and correction of the information they already have on you. It smacks of the methods spammers use to confirm your email address: they pretend to let you unsubscribe, when in fact you are confirming a legitimate email address where they can send even more junk.

It used to be that LexisNexis was the only legitimate company you could access to seek this kind of information. You had to be a corporate subscriber from a legitimate business, and it was very expensive. Now for a relatively low fee, any anonymous schmoe on the internet can get your entire financial history, everywhere you've lived, all of your relatives, your criminal record, and much more.

To be honest, I would like to see an end to all of these data mining companies. Their only purpose is to collect information on people and sell it to other people. They are no better than spammer services that sell lists of email addresses for the sole purpose of sending them junk email.

Just like spammers, these companies never bothered to ask us if we wanted to be listed in their database. They never asked us if we wanted to have our personal information made available to any jerk on the internet that disagreed with you on a message board and has decided that your pets need to die for your insolence.

They never asked if we wanted identity thieves to know everything about us so they could steal from us and not get caught.

They never asked a divorced woman if she minds that her violent ex-husband can find out where she lives now.

Demand to be unlisted immediately. Refusals to comply should be forwarded to the FTC and your congressional representative. Anyone who says that "you shouldn't be worried if you have nothing to hide" is using a straw man argument, and a weak one at that. Anyone using that argument should be required to put their home address, phone number and social security number up on their Facebook page.

Hey, you don't have anything to hide, right?

Everyone has a right to privacy. If I have a right to lock my doors at night and pull the blinds so random people on the street can't just watch me while I sleep or walk into my house, then I have a right to have my personal information kept safe from the same kind of people.