DeleteMe Mobile App Helps Keep Data Brokers at Bay
There are companies out there that gather tidbits of information from your online activities and piece them together to form detailed profiles that are used to target ads. However, others can purchase access to this information. Now, a mobile app, DeleteMe, helps individuals remove these profiles from data brokers' databases.
01/15/13 7:00 AM PT
Data brokers are watching your every move online. They track the sites you visit, articles you read, purchases you make, and even the names of your children. To cut through the red tape of monitoring and removing stored information, online privacy company Abine is offering a mobile version of its DeleteMe monitoring service, which is available for devices running iOS.
DeleteMe Mobile is an app version of Abine's DeleteMe service, which monitors the same data. The mobile version is just a mobile interface, the two services use different dashboards catered to mobile or desktop access. Users can download the app and get one free removal, but further monitoring costs US$24.99 for a three-month subscription.
It may seem like a high price to pay, but Abine claims there are over 200 data brokers that collect sensitive consumer information. These 200 companies -- which include Spokeo and Intellius, among countless others -- collect bits of online activity to piece together profiles. Profiles include such information as estimated net worth, religious and political affiliations, children's names, websites visited, articles read, photos posted, and any other tidbit that can be gathered.
Laser Ad Targeting
Such data are often used for ad targeting, which means that consumers will see ads for products they are likely to buy. If a consumer visits websites for several car manufacturers as well as news and review sites in the category, targeted ads for cars may appear during browsing.
While online users often find ad targeting objectionable, it is arguably a benefit as ads are more appropriate. The downside to data brokers, and the use of their consumer profiles, is that it is used for background checks run by employers, insurers, and even individuals who are willing to fork over a few dollars to access sensitive information.
Getting access to information, and the ability to make modifications to such data, is far more labor-intensive than getting a copy of a credit report. Some data brokers have an online form to allow access information, others involve hand-written letters and faxes to gain access or make changes.
"Some will display a certain amount of information for free, and then charge for a full report," Sarah Downey, analyst at Abine, told the E-Commerce Times. In some cases, "It's totally legal for them not to offer you any way to remove data."
Doing the Work
There is still some legwork involved in monitoring data, even with an app such as DeleteMe Mobile. The team at Abine, however, takes care of the heavy lifting, such as writing and faxing letters.
"In some cases we've automated the process, especially the online ones. In many cases it's real people sending letters on behalf of the customer," said Downey. "On our end, we take the hard work out of it."
The process is still somewhat manual, which justifies the quarterly cost of $24.99. It's still up to subscribers to use their subscriptions and clean up their data profiles.
"It's hard enough to believe that one company can clean up your profile, and it's even harder to believe that their more simple app can do the same thing from your wireless phone or tablet, but if they can do this it will be a home run," industry analyst Jeff Kagan told the E-Commerce Times.
Keeping a watchful eye on data being collected is become more important as companies are becoming more savvy in their use of invasive data.
"We remember talking about and watching the invasion of our privacy over the last few decades. It has reached critical mass now, and it will only get worse tomorrow," said Kagan. "If this works, and gives customers the tools to fight back, this could be a very successful app.
Abine is happy to give consumers the power, without paying for the app. Information on its website on how to contact companies to get data profiles edited or removed. The instructions may just be the best sales tool, once consumers read through all the steps they must take to get access, then make any changes.
"It's important to take action now if they value their online privacy," said Downey. "You really can reduce the size of your online footprint."