People search sites are a type of data broker that collects up to 80 personal data points. They claim their main goal is to connect people who have lost touch with one another. In parallel, they actively mine for data, collecting personal information about people from a variety of sources, such as public social media profiles, state records, and federal records, and even buy data from other data brokers to build profiles that they publish or sell online.
304 hours to manually complete data removal
Key points of the research include the following:
- In 2016 people search site Whitepages suffered a data breach that exposed 11.7 million accounts.
- People search sites collect around 80 personal data points.
- The cybersecurity company Surfshark report says a total of 310,855,487 accounts were leaked in 2022.
- The Identity Theft Resource Center reports more than 10 million individuals were impacted in 2022.
- It would take the average person 304 hours to manually complete all the individual data removal requests.
Some people sites offer personal information to anybody for free. Starting from full name, address, phone number, the names of relatives, age of a person, date of birth, to some even promising years of address history. By adding a few dollars, users can access information about any property someone owns, marriage or divorce records, bankruptcy information, sex offender status, and criminal records.
In order of search volumes, the top-10 of the most popular sites are:
While this data may be used for legitimate purposes, such as background checks for employment or housing, it can also be used for more nefarious purposes, such as impersonating someone to commit fraud, conducting phishing scams, perpetrating identity theft, and stalking.
Ten accounts were leaked every second last year
The last two years were very productive for cybercriminals. The cybersecurity company Surfshark report says a total of 310,855,487 accounts were leaked in 2022 and 959,327,963 in 2021. Moreover, ten accounts were leaked every second last year. Data breaches happened in multiple companies and organizations holding personal data.
In 2016 Seattle-based online telephone and address directory “Whitepages” suffered a massive data breach that exposed 11.7 million accounts. In 2019 2.9 GB of data taken in 2016 came for sale on the dark web. Each account record contains an email address, SHA1- or bcrypt-hashed password, and first and last name.
Darius Belejevas, head of Incogni said,
« The fact that people search sites include ‘dos and don’ts’ pages asking users not to use the data broker’s services to ‘stalk or harass another person’ or ‘commit identity theft’ speaks volumes. You don’t want your personal information sitting up on these sites with only a “please don’t” keeping scammers, stalkers, and cybercriminals at bay.We estimate it would take the average person 304 hours to manually complete all the individual data removal requests needed to secure their privacy. »
Most people search sites offer a way for people to stop the sale of their personal information. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it may seem. They use complicated opt-out procedures and make people pass through several different checks in an effort to hold on to their valuable data.
Unfortunately, even if a person opts out from every people search site it’s still not over. These sites constantly scan for new information and may repopulate with personal information immediately when new data appears online. This means a person will have to restart all opt-out procedures periodically. Personal information removal services help people remove and keep their data off various types of data broker databases by sending regular, recurring opt-out requests.