People finder websites collect information from around the internet, make it accessible to anyone, and they don’t need permission.
Becky Edvalson is a loving mom of three rambunctious youngsters. Her first priority is protecting her family.
“I don’t want anything bad to ever happen to them,” she said.
But when NEWS10 ABC reporter Trishna Begam met her for the first time, she was surprised to find out everything Trishna already knew about her, including her birth year and her parents’ address.
“That’s really crazy,” she said. “That’s a lot of information.”
Too much information for a total stranger that took seconds to look up before meeting in person. All it takes is a name – no need for an account and no need to pay.
People finder websites like Spokeo, PeekYou and FamilyTreeNow offer a detailed dossier.
“I am aware of how we make our passwords often associated with things that are familiar in our life,” Edvalson said.
Edvalson has already experienced identity theft and doesn’t want to make it easier with her privacy in the hands of strangers.
“It’s a little too much information for my liking,” she said. “I wonder when are my kids going to pop up on there and what consequences does that have for them.”
Dan Ditrusi is a computer science instructor at Siena College. He said finder websites are perfectly legal.
“That information is collected piecemeal from many, many different places,” he explained. “These companies will scrap public databases like tax records.”
It’s a billion dollar industry where people are not the customer rather the product. Should be people scared?
“That’s hard to say,” Ditrusi said. “I mean, information is powerful.”
Identity theft, stalking and harassment become a lot easier.
“That’s where my brain went right to – people doing local physical harm because I’m a mom, and the biggest worry you have as a mom is the safety of your kids,” Edvalson said.
The expectation of privacy is gone.
“I do think the online aspect is freaky,” Edvalson’s husband, John, said. “Someone would really have to dig to get all that information.”
Not anymore because privacy poachers already have entire histories, but John doesn’t want to shut them all down.
“I’m not for repressing information; I’m for people being aware what risks are,” he said. “Not being paranoid; being educated and empowered.”
There are steps that can be taken if you’re worried.
“It’s really hard,” Ditrusi said. “You have to go to every single website and ask them to take them down.”
NEWS10 showed Edvalson how to remove herself on one site. The process took about one minute.
“I see why the information is there,” she said. “It is public information, but maybe if there were a couple different steps for security before you were able to get that in-depth.”
“Yes, the government should be a watchdog over some of these things, but who’s watching the watchmen?” John said.
But at least the Edvalsons can rest assured their names have been removed from a little corner of the internet.
At least for now.
NEWS10 reached out FamilyTreeNow about how easy they make it to look anyone up but did not receive a response from them after several attempts.
There are opt out options for most of people finder websites. Simply visit their opt out page and follow the instructions to remove your information: