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How to fight back against privacy pirates

You can't delete digital data, but you can mask your Internet identity

By Julie Sartain, Network World
May 07, 2012 07:04 AM ET

Network World - Have you Googled yourself lately? Is the information about you accurate or full of inconsistencies, both of which can be devastating?

Accurate information that you'd rather be kept private can be used by stalkers to find where you are and by cyber criminals to steal your identity and empty out your bank account. While incorrect data that casts you in a bad light can cost you a promotion, a job, or even your business.

Identity theft reporting system needs improvement

7 ways to mask your identity

So, how can you reclaim your digital privacy and fight back against companies that collect your personal data and sell it for their own profit. What if you want to completely erase your online presence? Is that even possible?

Unfortunately, the short answer is no. But here's what you can do to mask your identity and make it difficult for the privacy pirates.

Security by obscurity

"There is no 'delete' button on the Internet," says Avivah Litan, fraud detection and identity theft analyst/vice president at Gartner Research. "The stuff never gets deleted. The best users can generally do is pay some company to put the 'bad' stuff towards the bottom of a longer list, so it's obscure. Sometimes they can try to get to the source and get them to delete the information, but that is a very painstaking and often fruitless exercise."

Robert Siciliano, online security analyst at McAfee, adds, "In order to completely erase all online identity, one would need lots of time, focus and persistence. This means no more online profiles, no social media profiles, no blogs, no websites, and removing your name and contact information from all lists and from the phone book (which also ends up online). Even if you shop online and check the box requesting not to be contacted, there is a good chance you'll still end up on a list. Despite your efforts to erase your online identity, it requires ongoing maintenance to remain offline. The problem is, once it's digital, it's repeatable. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, those that control the data may not comply."

According to Alan Webber, principal analyst and partner at Altimeter Group, LLC, "There are some products out there such as Web 2.0 Suicide Machine that supposedly do this [provide online identity protection]. Whether or not they are truly successful is hard to say. They go in and delete the accounts along with requesting that all backups of the information also be deleted. However, if some of this information escapes into marketing databases, it may be very difficult to delete or remove it."

"This is true," adds Siciliano. "There is no service that I am aware of that can guarantee 100% removal of all online identity data.'' Vendors such as McAfee and others offer identity protection software, which includes credit monitoring across all three credit bureaus, unlimited credit reports, lost wallet protection, plus Internet and public records monitoring."

Track the trackers

Companies such as Intelius, Spokeo, MyLife, PeekYou, BeenVerified, PeopleFinder, and Radaris (to name a few) collect your personal information, sell it, then make it difficult, if not impossible, to get it removed.

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