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Digital Makeover: Protect Your Personal Info #30DaysofGOOD

The privacy experts at SafeShepherd offer tips for removing your personal information from the web.

30 Days of GOOD (#30DaysofGOOD) is our monthly attempt to live better. This month we're focused on improving the way we use technology.

"How old does this site think I am? And why does it think that?"

If you've ever asked yourself these questions while surfing the web, you're at least a little familiar with data broker sites.

In short, a data broker site collects information about people and then sells that information. Some, like Acxiom, focus on selling information to marketing companies. They track information about where people live and shop, how much money they make, and what their interests are. Then they create packages of types of people and sell those lists of people to companies. If you've ever gotten a catalogue that you didn't sign up for, this is probably how you got on the mailing list.

Other sites are in the business of selling information about individuals to other individuals. These are the sites that promise to do background checks for only $10. They get their information from phone books, public LinkedIn profiles, DMV records, voting registration records, and many other sources.

The first step in protecting your information is to know what information about you is available. A Google Alert is easy to set up and will send you an email any time your name pops up online. If you have a common name this might result in a lot of email about people who aren't you. But it's an extremely easy and free way of monitoring where information about you is turning up.

If you want to remove information about you that is already on the Internet, there are sites like ours, SafeShepherd, that remove it from "people search" tools. For everything else, you should contact the website directly. Many sites are run by perfectly nice people who will happily remove your information, but not all of them are nice and unless the information is a damaging lie, they don't have to remove it.

Once a site has your information they may not want to give it up, so a good defense is really the best offense. Check your Facebook settings and your LinkedIn settings. Are you sharing with people you don't know? Is that okay with you? Then go to your phone's settings. If you have a smartphone it will have a geo locator. You should check and see if yours can be turned off, or if it can be set to only let some apps collect your location information. The maps app you love will probably work better with location information, but the camera phone app might not need it to make you happy.

Lastly, clear out your inbox by unsubscribing from all the newsletters you never read. You'll get less junk mail and fewer companies will have your email address to add to the profiles they sell.

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