How & Why To Remove Your Private Information From Data Brokers

Why Now Is the Time to Scrub Your Data

David Koff
12 min readApr 20


Important notes: I’ll be using the term PII quite a bit in this article. PII stands for “personally identifiable information”. Think of it, simply, as any private information that you wouldn’t want to be shared publically.

Also, this is a longer piece because it’s a crucial topic to explore and understand.

The Challenge: Data Brokers

Back in Episode #23 of my newsletter, I dug into the topic of data brokers. These companies collect PII on every person on the planet from public AND private databases. These data include email addresses, phone numbers, addresses, employers, criminal records, and much more. It’s not the kind of information that anyone wants to be shared publically with the entire world.

Or with advertisers. But that’s exactly what happens. Data brokers sell access to our PII which is a $200-billion-a-year business.

Graphic credit: WebFX

The Problem: Lives Upended

Unfortunately, the PII that data brokers collect and then provide to others isn’t always accurate. This happens, for example, when there are other people that have your full name and their PII is confused as yours. When errors like that appear on background checks, it can cost not landing a new job, losing approval to rent an apartment, or being denied a room in a nursing home.

So, you know: bad.

Worse, our personal medical records be traced back to us, even if our names aren’t on them. In this TEDx talk, Madhumita Murgia shares how a Harvard professor absolutely schooled William Weld, the Governor of Massachusetts. Weld — for reasons that I cannot understand — decided to release the anonymized health records of over 135,000 state employees, including his own.

His public gamble was that, without names on these records, none of them could be traced back to any of the 135,000 state employees. He was proven spectacularly wrong when the professor sent Governor his own medical records.


The Awakening… Finally



David Koff

I’m a tech writer who focuses on digital privacy & security. Subscribe to my easy-to-read tech newsletter to learn more!