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Anyone Can Find Your Personal Info Online, Right Now

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Most people know that it is best to be safe and cautious when posting information on the Internet or social networks. But what most people don't know is just how much personal information can be found online.

Data Sales Inc.

For one thing, the data sales industry collects facts and stats when you enter information into an online form. This includes details from social networks, online purchases, credit reports, etc. Once information is entered, it can be stored, processed, analyzed, and sold.

These businesses that monetize user data have teamed up with Internet giants such as Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Yahoo, and others, to aggregate information and sell data to third party ad networks. In 2013, the data sales industry generated about $40 billion in revenue and Google received about 40 percent of it.

People Search Plague

If you didn't know this, try it out yourself. Visit www.spokeo.com or any other "people search" site and enter your name. There are a number of sites like this that openly advertise their purpose: to collect and organize personal information from white pages, public records, and social networks to help others "find and learn about people." In other words, these sites are veritable smorgasbord for stalkers, collections agencies, bounty hunters, skip tracers, private investigators, and more.

Those in search of information are provided with many details. Not only can you view the information entered in online forms, you can also see personal photos, Google Maps images of your house, personal emails, spouse, relatives, educational status, etc. With this amount of detail, there are those who have free rein to stalk, contact and potentially harass.

Currently there are no federal laws condemning data sales. Depending on the state, remedial actions will be extended if the information has been used to harass others.

Tips to Protect Privacy Online

  • When completing an online form, enter a minimum amount of private info.
  • Block cookies from being stored by your browser (if they are not required for a webpage to function).
  • On social networks, be very careful what you share. Don't share any information you don't want sold.
  • Use data encryption when possible within your email or instant messaging apps.
  • If you agree to let a website use your personal data, read their fine print.
  • Search the web for your own name, see what comes up. Fix it.

Stalker Situation

There are incidents in the news dealing with online stalkers; however there is not much action from disciplinarians. If a stalking situation becomes physically or psychologically harmful, a victim can execute a few defenses:

  • Research the state's stalking and harassment laws and determine whether to file a domestic restraining order, a civil harassment restraining order, or a civil lawsuit.
  • Contact the local state's National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) at http://nnedv.org
  • Contact the National Center for Victims of Crime at http://victimsofcrime.org

Your personal information is constantly bought, tracked, and sold. There is no way to deny the use and sale of personal data.

To prevent future incidents, use extra caution when sharing personal information. And, please tell your family -- especially kids.

Note: This article and the opinions expressed here are from Russ Warner, Internet safety expert and CEO of ContentWatch, makers of parental control software Net Nanny.

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