A common question that is often asked is how to reduce or restrict online access to personal information. As noted by the Pew Research Center, “4% of all online adults say they have had bad experiences because embarrassing or inaccurate information was posted about them online.”
In addition, The Free Public Directory Blog notes that a 2005 survey found “one out of four employers has rejected applicants based on research via search engines.”
The Pew Research Center has recently published a report entitled “Digital Footprints” with this warning:
The digitization of public records and the increasing accuracy of search engines has made it easy in recent years for the general population to join creditors, law enforcement, and other professional investigators in the hunt for individuals’ personal information.
… creditors are another force driving the growth of the personal information market. They make it their business to find a wayward bill payer’s physical location and contact information, resulting in an online database that lists names, addresses, and phone numbers.
While this blog and website is unable to assess the validity or usefulness of the following resources and makes no recommendations about a particular service or tactic, there are reports of services that may help protect personal information online.
On May 14, 2007, Network World reports on several protection services, including ReputationDefender and several other sites that offer free and paid services. On December 28, 2007, MakeUseOf.com suggests several “disposable” web accounts that can be used to protect personal information during online transactions as a way to combat spam and increase protection from identity theft.
On December 30, 2007, the Associated Press, via The Raw Story notes “Attrition.org and the Identity Theft Resource Center are the only groups, government included, maintaining databases on breaches and trends each year,” and reports:
The loss or theft of personal data such as credit card and Social Security numbers soared to unprecedented levels in 2007, and the trend isn’t expected to turn around anytime soon as hackers stay a step ahead of security and laptops disappear with sensitive information.
Additional information and resources are discussed at the Free Public Records Directory Blog, in the article Identity Theft and Online Government Records.
In the article What Everyone Should Know About Court Records, this blog notes that there is a lot of sensitive personal information that is made available online through court records, and that many courts now offer protections when filing sensitive personal information.
UPDATE: From Boing Boing on January 7, 2008:
Jeremy Clarkson, a presenter for Top Gear on British TV, wrote a newspaper editorial that accused privacy activists of being hysterical over giant data-leaks… To prove that identity theft wasn’t a big deal, he included his bank account details in the article.
Whereupon someone promptly began making fraudulent withdrawals from his account.