It can be unnerving to find tidbits of your personally identifiable information on the web. An untold number of websites could have your name, phone number, email address, and/or physical address.
The effects of the dissemination of these tidbits range from irksome to terrifying, as sometimes people can use this information to harass, intimidate, impersonate or defraud you.
What most people don’t realize is that you can request that your info be erased from these websites, though it is a painstaking and time-consuming process. Luckily, there are privacy services like DeleteMe that can do this for you.
DeleteMe Quick Summary
If you’re concerned about your online footprint, you can use DeleteMe to remove your information from data brokers’ websites. You could do this on your own by sending a request to each site and monitoring that site to make sure your info is actually removed, but DeleteMe takes care of this process for you using a combination of automation and human interaction.
In our testing, DeleteMe found 41 data brokers with personally identifiable information; that information was published on a total of 1,804 websites. As of the date of publication, we’re five weeks in from signing up for the service and DeleteMe has managed to remove our information from only 51 of those 1,804 sites.
We will update these numbers after the conclusion of our first quarterly DeleteMe report in August 2023. Until then, our test results are inconclusive and we are waiting to publish a review score and final verdict.
- Saves you hours of work.
- Issues quarterly reports on which sites still have your data, which have been cleared, and which ones are still pending.
- 100% satisfaction guarantee.
- The service is expensive to maintain. While they have a monthly payment plan, you’ll need to stay a member for at least three months to see significant benefits.
- It doesn’t cover all data brokers.
- Many sites can only be removed via custom request.
- Removal takes a while (weeks or more).
Your personally identifiable data is all over the web, from the name and birthdate that your bank keeps on file to the email address you entered to get that free e-book on how to keep houseplants alive.
Your information (even the not-so-sensitive things like your email address) is extremely valuable to advertisers because the more they know about you, the easier it is to sell stuff to you. Companies called data brokers collect this information from various websites and public records, repackage it into an organized profile about your demographic info, and sell it to advertisers.
In addition to people interested in your data for legitimate business purposes, there are those with more nefarious motives, such as fraudsters, thieves and crazy ex-girlfriends. (Really! BeenVerified states that 13% of their users search for people for dating/cheating purposes.)
Data breaches and the potential for identity theft are very real threats, as consumers were defrauded out of $8.8 billion in 2022 alone. The more information that’s out on the web, the higher your risk, because identity thieves have fewer data points to fill in when pretending to be you.
To remove your personal information from data brokers, you must send each one an opt-out request. Thanks to the new California Consumer Privacy Act, these requests now have more teeth in them than they once did, and many data brokers are complying with these requests.
But sending a removal request to every site that may have your information is cumbersome and time-consuming. Plus you’d have to monitor each website to verify that they’ve actually removed your information and track each to ensure they don’t repopulate your data. DeleteMe does all this on your behalf.
It’s worth noting that it’s entirely possible to do all of this yourself. In fact, DeleteMe even has a series of guides for DIYers. But it would take hours and hours to remove all your data from the sites that DeleteMe covers. For many customers, the convenience of the saved time is worth the cost.
How it Works
Once you sign up, you supply DeleteMe with the information you want to be scrubbed from the web by filling out their datasheet. You also grant them limited power of attorney to act on your behalf to request that your data be removed. They do not ask for personal financial information (like account numbers) or a Social Security number.
After that, DeleteMe searches for and sends removal requests for your data on the websites of dozens of data brokers. They don’t reveal a ton about this process — only that it involves a combination of automation and direct human contact.
DeleteMe issues a report about a week after you sign up, informing you of where they’ve found your information and the steps they’re taking to remove it. You’ll receive quarterly reports thereafter with updates.
Expect the removal to take some time. As you can imagine, data brokers aren’t keen to part with their product (your info), and privacy laws grant them time to remove it from their databases — up to 90 days in the case of California.
Five states — California, Colorado, Utah, Virginia and Connecticut — have enacted consumer privacy laws, but these laws are governed at the state level at this time, so the compliance of data brokers can be spotty.
Types of Data That Can Be Deleted
DeleteMe removes personally identifiable data, such as your:
- Physical address (current and former)
- Phone number
- Email addresses
- Names of relatives (spouse, parents, etc.)
- Political affiliation
- Marital status
- Property value
- Social media account handles
DeleteMe works with a list of hundreds of sites, though not all are included in every plan; some are only included in DeleteMe’s business-level plans.
DeleteMe focuses its efforts on clearing your info from 40+ data brokers (who in turn sell your information to more websites).
However, for many individual websites that aren’t data brokers, you must submit a custom request to remove your info.
For many of the brokers, you’ll get an email confirmation directly from the databroker, which you must confirm.
Types of Data That DeleteMe Will Not (or Cannot) Remove
If you’re expecting DeleteMe to erase you from every corner of the internet, you’re likely to be disappointed. There are a few things that DeleteMe cannot fix for you:
- Data on sites that don’t have an opt-out procedure (these are usually located outside the U.S.).
- Data held with PeopleConnect and its subsidiaries, including Intelius, Truthfinder and InstantCheckMate. However, DeleteMe’s website offers a DIY option for removing your data from these sites
- Info on social media websites (though you can delete this yourself).
- Info on government websites or other sites that are considered public record.
Can DeleteMe Remove You From Google and Search Engine Results?
The answer is, indirectly, yes. Google and other search engines don’t store your personal information; they are indexes of information held on other websites, scanned, stored in a cache, and pulled up for you when you search for it.
Once DeleteMe starts erasing your data from websites, Google’s search results will naturally pull up less and less of that data. This can take some time, as the cached versions of these sites may contain your data even if the updated version no longer does.
Types of Data DeleteMe Collects From You (And How it Uses That Data)
It’s a bit ironic that the site that erases sensitive data from the web starts by asking you for all of your personal information. But they can’t look for it if they don’t know what it is, and this information is already on the web anyway. (That’s why you’re using the service, after all.)
How Successful is DeleteMe in Removing Data?
After five weeks of testing, our results are inconclusive. As noted earlier in the article, DeleteMe has been succesful in removing a minimal amount of information.
Reddit user flsucks noted: “I used DeleteMe and had fantastic results. They offer free instructions on how to do what they do yourself. I chose to use their services because I needed data removed for 4 people and I just don’t have the time. In my experience, it was well worth the fee. There are other such services and I evaluated all of them. DeleteMe was a good fit for my situation.”
Redditor t8_asia_a’s review is fairly typical of most: “I use DeleteMe, it’s not perfect but worth the money (to me at least).” Users see good results (after giving DeleteMe some time to work its magic), and while it won’t scrub you from every site, it does what it claims to do.
How Much Does DeleteMe Cost?
DeleteMe costs $10.75 per month for one person, or $129 per year if billed annually. If you have two people on the same plan, it costs $19.08 per month ($229 annually). The best value is the two-year, two-person plan for $14.54 ($349 for two years).
Theoretically, you could do what DeleteMe does and send requests to the data brokers yourself, so it’s important to know that you’re paying for the element of convenience here, not a proprietary product. That said, you’ll likely spend dozens of hours doing what DeleteMe does on your own, so it may be worth the cost.
DeleteMe vs. Alternatives
DeleteMe isn’t the only scrub-your-data-from-the-internet game in town; there are many others, including:
- One Rep
Each of these offers a different number of data brokers and websites they eliminate data from, different pricing structures, and other features. If you’re looking for a more extensive list of brokers than DeleteMe, Optery is a good choice, though you’ll pay more for “automation + human” service equivalent to what DeleteMe provides.
If you’re on a budget, EasyOptOuts.com is just $19.99 per year, but there are no family or multi-year discounts.
When comparing services, the list of brokers and prices aren’t the only things to be aware of. A few businesses in this space have gone under (farewell, Privacy Duck) or been acquired, begging the question, “What happens to the data I gave my web privacy service if they’re not around anymore?”
To ensure you get the best service now and in years to come, select a company with a good track record, a decent-sized list of brokers and a reasonable price.
Using or not using privacy protection software like DeleteMe is playing a game of odds. What is the likelihood that your identity will be stolen today or tomorrow? Not super high.
But if someone manages to get a hold of your password in a data breach or on the dark web, and that person gets their hands on all your personal information, the sky’s the limit on the damage they can do.
There are several easy steps you can take to protect your online accounts, such as using two-factor authentication and varying your passwords between sites. Using a privacy protection solution like DeleteMe is one more tool in your privacy and security arsenal.
That said, no tool is perfect. Even bulletproof vests don’t work 100% of the time, but it sure is better to use one than not. If it’s within your budget, using a tool like DeleteMe is a good idea — especially if there are elements in your life that make you a more attractive target for hackers or thieves.
Situations where you might consider DeleteMe are if you have significant cash on hand (in a bank account), if you’ve already been a victim of identity theft or fraud, if you store a lot of valuables in your home, if you have a strong social media following, or you’re in a profession where angry clients would come after you (such as a doctor or lawyer).
For regular Joes and Janes that may not want to spend the money on DeleteMe, using free security tools like a password manager or two-factor authentication would be good first steps to take to protect your identity on the web. DeleteMe also offers instructions on its website for doing some of the data removal requests yourself.
Additional DeleteMe Features
In addition to its web privacy services, DeleteMe enables you to create masked emails, phone numbers, and credit card numbers. These services create dummy accounts that forward to you so the recipient doesn’t get your real account information. (If you’ve ever used Craigslist, you’ve seen this in the site’s email function.)
DeleteMe Review: Final Thoughts
If you’re interested in deleting your personal information from the web without spending hours sending opt-out requests yourself, DeleteMe is a solid choice.
If you’re on the monthly plan, expect to not see significant results for at least three months.
Whatever steps you take to increase the privacy of your personal data are good ones, even if they don’t remove all traces of you from the internet.
If you’re on the fence about whether DeleteMe’s service is worth the money, you can try their free scan to see what personal data is on the web for you.