I don't have them often, but every now and then everything I have planned over the period of a week stacks up on the same day and I'm tearing the house apart for my keys with my toothbrush hanging out of my mouth, applying mascara using my reflection in the microwave door, the whole nine yards.
I was digging through my closet when my sister called me. The first thing she did was assure that no one was, in fact, bleeding or dead (this is how often we speak on the phone versus text). She proceeded to tell me about a website called familytreenow.com that came up with her quarterly personal information scrub (more on that later), important for two reasons: the website aggregates from 70-some-odd data websites, and my preschool-aged children appeared under her listing as "possible associates". Her profession as a social worker places her in a small amount of danger, so this scared both of us.
It was 9:00 when I threw a series of tweets together about it. Internet safety is important to anyone, and in particular the community I belong to on twitter sees a lot of targeted online abuse. Thanks to a volatile political climate, using our voices now comes with placing targets on our backs -- particularly the marginalized groups Tr*mp has alienated and endangered most. We have to look out for each other, so I threw something out, and crawled under the bed in search of my other boot.
By the time I left my meeting at 11-something, I'd already received something like 850 retweets. As of right now, it's been retweeted somewhere around 3,000 times. Clearly I hit a nerve, and I'd like to do two things: Expound on data brokerage/internet safety (I didn't do this in my intial thread because of time restraints), and share some of the resources that have been shared in my mentions in the almost 24 hours since my thread went live.
#1: Data Brokerage is Nothing New There were a lot of folks in my mentions who were shocked that this was even a possibility, and I have uncomfortable news for you guys: There are a LOT of websites like these. A LOT. Online trolls have been using sites like this to dox people since ever, and staying abreast of new data brokerage sites as they appear feels completely Sisyphean at times.
The reason I shared familytreenow and not spokeo/whitepages/beenverfied is because, like I said before, it aggregates from TONS of places. I've seen thorough listings before, but nothing to that degree. It listed my stepdad's exwife as a possible associate?! My mom had one of my sister's friends listed that lived in their house for three weeks when his parents kicked him out -- seven years ago.
#2 Yep, it's US only. We keep many records public in the US, and for good reason (*cough such as vetting politicians looking at you, president-elect cough*. Unfortunately, this makes data brokerage completely legal. It's shit. It's terrifying. If you live internationally, do your due dilligence. Research your country's laws on legal documents, and protect yourself accordingly.
(International friends, if you catch wind of sites like this, please let me know so I can boost your signal!)
#3 Yep, it's legal Like I mentioned before, the fact that this is all public record makes this all legal. It also means that you may reappear on certain websites if you have to perform a background check to start a job or lease an apartment.
#4 No, I don't know whether opting out is confirming whether information is correct. This seemed to be a common concern, but no one has confirmed whether it's a valid one.
#5 WHAT NOW? Well, you get to work.
The frustrating thing about these kinds of sites are two-fold: One, new ones pop up all the time as people become aware of the old ones and opt out. Two, your information can apparently reappear places like Spokeo after a certain period of time.
We know you need to schedule ten minutes out of your month for breast self exams (yes, even if you're a cis dude, everyone has breast tissue), and schedule yearly physicals (AND PAP SMEARS IF YOU HAVE A CERVIX DO NOT NEGLECT THIS CERVIX OWNING PEOPLE ALSO TESTICLE OWNING PEOPLE GET YOUR PROSTATES CHECKED).
But this is another thing you need to schedule for yourself. Some people do it once a year (pick a holiday! Or the first day of Spring for Spring cleaning?). My sister does it quarterly. The things you need to consider are: *Your involvement in internet communities *The frequency in which you are targeted for online abuse *The public nature of your name/persona (hi authors looking at you) *The threat level associated with your occupation. People are angry, and frustrated, and you need to protect yourselves, selfless public servants. (Also I love you, keep fighting the good fight).
ALSO, SIDE NOTE. If you have changed your name AT ANY TIME -- taking a partner's last name, if you have a dead name, et cetera -- be sure to complete the opt-out process for each one.
The beauty of twitter is that ultimately, we all want to look out for each other. I received several suggestions of resources for protecting yourself online, and I'm going to list them here: *Several people told me about crashoverridenetwork.com, an educational tool to prevent online abuse. If you participate in social media at all, this is required reading. Start here. *Leslie Poston (@leslie) shared this awesome, thorough (but likely not comprehensive) list of websites to opt out of. (Thanks, Leslie!) *Madeline Buxton at Refinery29 wrote an article about familytreenow, including great suggestions for first steps to take in scrubbing your identity online -- including a website that will wipe your identity from several data brokerage sites at once. *Craig Garner (@cgmb16) told us about a chrome exention that opts out of google analytics. *Bill Fitzgerald (@funnymonkey) suggested this website and this website -- the former, a list of data brokers compiled by Julia Angwin (@juliaangwin), the latter, another comprehensive opt-out list for data mining.
Dear readers, if you have any suggestions you don't see here, my comments are open!