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CLEANING UP THE CLUTTER (Pt. 5 of “Why Don’t You Go Dox Yourself?”)

Welcome back! Previously in our Go Dox Yourself series, we walked through reviewing what information is available about you online, prioritizing those accounts that are most important or still active, and then restricting how much we share through those accounts and who gets to see it. That’s two out of our three steps — maybe good enough for Meatloaf, but not for us! You’re in the home stretch now, and this is the most straightforward-if-slow portion of the process — so let’s dive right in.

SURVIVING THE WALKING DEAD (ACCOUNTS)

In the review step , along with the top accounts that you wrote out in your initial brain dump, we used some email search tricks and the free services NameCheckup.com and NameChk.com to dig up any unused, forgotten, or now obsolete accounts you might have previously registered under your email address or favorite username (or, as us ʼ80s kids used to say, your “handle.”)

dox
Example results on a username search from NameChk

We set those old accounts to the side to focus on your active and sensitive data first, but now it’s time to make Marie Kondo proud and clean out the junk drawers of our online life – if it doesn’t still serve you or spark joy, let’s kiss it goodbye!

In a perfect world, this would be as simple as logging in, going to your account settings and clicking a big ol’ “Cancel My Account” button. However, many sites opt to bury the cancelation settings behind a series of smokescreen menus, sometimes even including a half dozen unskippable “are you SURE you want to leave?” and “but we’ll give you a super good deal to stay!” surveys to click through first.

If you find yourself thwarted and your first search of “[Unwanted Service] cancel” doesn’t take you where you need to go, try checking out AccountKiller. This collaborative resource takes submissions of step-by-step deletion instructions and direct links to cancel for a tremendous number of sites, and even includes phone tree options and direct support numbers for canceling offline accounts as well.

The first pass of your delete list might well be longer than a CVS receipt, because these days the average person has 100 password-protected accounts to manage, but don’t worry! You don’t have to sprint to the finish line, and slow progress checking off a few accounts in short sessions over a few weeks will serve you better than a several-hour slog of trying to clear them all at once and burning out.

An important lesson in security is that operating at max capacity isn’t sustainable all the time, and planning for rest and overflow in our personal security planning is no different. Remember that the work you’re doing is cumulative, each small step is one more forward, and every account you clear now is one less that you’ll need to revisit later.

TAKING YOUR DATA OFF THE MARKET

You might notice that we’ve checked off most of the information from our initial brainstorm: emails, usernames, phone numbers, profile pictures… but so far, we haven’t done much with your location history: the cities you lived in and live now, the cities where you worked or went to school, and the city of your birth. Now that we’re going to see how much information on you is available through data brokers and public record sites, these details will be important to have handy.

For the unfamiliar, data brokers are companies which collect and bundle personal information for everything from ad customization to individual investigation. Brokers collect their data through a wide variety of methods, including:

  • Public record sites
  • Public social media content, and social media/demographic content collected through third party apps
  • Ad trackers, which collect data about your browsing activity across different sites (it is worth mentioning that this method is becoming less popular thanks to improvements by hardware and OS providers)
  • Location tracking, often collected by installed apps on a user’s smart device
  • In brick and mortar stores, retailers even use Bluetooth and WiFi trackers for more precise information on shopper’s habits and “hotspots” during a visit

These metrics and details are bundled and sold, either directly through lookup sites like we’ll review in just a moment, or in demographic bundles (for example, “Resilient Renters” or “Living on Loans: Young Urban Single Parents”). If you’ve ever walked through a car dealership window-shopping and suddenly found sponsored content for that car company in your feed, data brokers are the most likely reason.

For this step you should reference the previously-mentioned Personal Data Removal Workbook provided by Michael Bazzell through his company, IntelTechniques. Bazzell has maintained and updated this workbook for many years now, and it is by far the most comprehensive resource for keeping a handle on who is buying and selling your data.

One of the first things you’ll notice on opening the workbook is the sheer volume of businesses out there buying and selling your data: at time of writing, the current edition includes 220 separate brokers. But much like your initial account inventory likely included a select set of important accounts and a longer list of less-relevant ones, there are less than a dozen brokers who dominate most of the market and should be at the top of your list – and fortunately, they’re also at the top of the workbook! These sites are:

  • Acxiom: B2B (business-to-business) marketing service providing “customer intelligence” that can include personal info as well as demographic/interest information based on your online activity
  • BeenVerified: Search engine for public records, including email/phone/username lookup, vehicle information, and unclaimed property
  • Infotracer: Another public records search including even more information like political contributions, arrest records, and property records
  • Intelius: People-search tool utilized for background checks, private investigators, and public searches
  • Lexis Nexis: One of the oldest brokers, and more of a “big player” in the space working with law firms, government agencies, and large corporation for analytic and investigation needs
  • Radaris: Similar to BeenVerified and Intelius, covering public record searches of name, contact information, or property/location history
  • Spokeo: Branded as a “white pages service”, focused on name/address/email/phone-based searches
  • TruePeopleSearch: Phone, name, and email based searches
  • Whitepages: Another comprehensive search site covering many types of public records

Aside from covering most of the market for data and analytics intelligence, these primary sites often act as “feeders” for smaller providers that are either directly affiliated or collect information for their own databases from the largest providers. Which means that as you remove your data from these sites, you’ll not only check off another box on your list, but you may also reduce the number of hits you find for your information on smaller sites as you work your way down.

Congratulations: if you’ve been following along, you’ve just made it through your self-doxxing! Hopefully you’re feeling much better informed and aware of what tracks you’ve left online, and addressed who you do and do not want to have your… addresses. Join us soon for our wrap-up post where we’ll recap with takeaway lessons, as well as good habits and check-ins to keep you safe going forward.

Care about keeping people and their data safe online? Check out our open roles.


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