Many of us take great care to vet our social media profiles and to protect our privacy by increasing our security settings. Little do we know that there are websites that gather seemingly hidden and unfound information about our lives to create “profiles” or search results for anyone to find. People Search Engines reveal everything from criminal records to any online customer reviews you might have left. You can find out someone’s date of birth, their address, public court records, marital status, and even maps of where they live.
Whilst these sites claim to help people get in touch with long lost relatives, old friends and school peers, they actually pose very serious threats to our online safety. They put you at risk of identity theft as it makes it easier for criminals to pose as you online (for instance, by finding out your personal email address and/or creating a fake social media account under your name). Moreover, trolls and internet bullies have been known to find out and publicly expose their victim’s private information, very often accompanied by threats of violence and sexual assault.1 We must also remember that these search engines affect our insurance premiums and our credit ratings, as well as our job prospects. Consequently, we should not take them lightly.
Here is a quick list of some of the worst of these privacy-invading search engines, as well as some easy steps you can take to protect your privacy from virtual prying eyes:
Pipl – once a standard search engine, Pipl has become one of the most popular people search engines. Using data from directories, social networks, public records, businesses and other sites, Pipl is an easy-to-use website that allows you to search for anyone in the world.
Yasni – as well as allowing you to search for people, Yasni also has a focus on allowing businesses and clients to find one another. Yasni quickly and efficiently brings up clearly organised information about almost any individual: their business profiles, telephone and addresses, heritage, books, and reports and statements, as well as any web pages remotely related to their name.
PeekYou – PeekYou has a very similar layout and set up to Yasni in that it provides clearly organised information about the person. Under clear headings it lists “arrest records and driving infractions”, “public records and background checks”, “photo albums” and “documents”.
Instant Checkmate, Intellius, Whitepages and Spokeo. These four people search engines can only be used to search for individuals in the US. Users must also pay to gain access to the information. Instant Checkmate actually sets itself up as an online personal investigative tool that will allow anyone to find out secret information about another person. It even constantly reminds its users, “This site contains REAL police records (court records of driving citations, speeding tickets, felonies, misdemeanors, sexual offenses, mugshots, etc.), background reports, marriage/divorce history, address information, phone numbers, and much more.”
What you can do to protect your privacy:
There are two steps that you can take to protect your identity from people search engines.
Remove yourself from each of the people search engines. Unfortunately, there is no single way to remove yourself from every single people search engine in one go. However, these websites do have opt-out pages so you can request each of the search engines in turn to be removed from their results. This great article from Computer World offers a list of the main people search engines and advice on exactly how you can remove your personal information from these data aggregators.
Go through the results and remove any unwanted accounts or information from the internet. Whilst you might not be able to remove yourself from all of these websites, you can use them to search for yourself and see if there is any unwanted information that you can remove yourself from the internet. Delete old and unused social media profiles and blogs, and double check the privacy settings of your current accounts to make sure that they are secure. If your telephone number is being revealed, check to see whether or not you are ex-directory.
Tip: You may notice if you have an Instagram account that other websites such as ink361 have made copies of your Instagram account, including all of your pictures. At present, if you have your Instagram account and pictures set to ‘public’ this is completely legal. The only way to have both your account and your pictures removed from these sites is to change your Instagram privacy settings to “private”. You can find out more tips on how to secure your photos in our article “6 Easy Ways to Protect Your Images”.
Perhaps the most important lesson that we can learn from these websites is to think before we share our information. We need to double check privacy terms and conditions, and to thoughtfully consider our words before posting. Leaving an angry customer review or a humorous comment on an article might seem like a good idea at the time, but you can guarantee that even if Google does not find the result, these people search engines will.