Do you suffer from paranoia? I’ve never really been a paranoid person at all. For starters, I don’t think I’m that interesting to especially warrant anyone else’s attention, but lately things have started to change. I’ve always been quite cautious about my personal information, and have only ever given away things about myself that I’m comfortable with others knowing.
Or so I thought.
Last week, a friend of mine who works in intelligence was enlightening me on just how easy it is to find out information about people online. I felt like I knew about this already, and was fairly savvy about keeping my personal information private. Let me tell you now – I was so fucking wrong. Within the space of a few minutes, my friend was able to show me how to quickly discover a whole host of information about myself, from my full name and address, to the addresses of every house I’ve ever lived in since I was 18, how much I paid for my current home and a shitload of other personal information that I had no idea was publicly accessible.
I felt sick. To be honest, I still do. I’ve spent the best part of the last day or so trying to find out how this happened and how I can fix it.
I’ve been registered to vote since I was 18. Back then, the internet was fledgling at best and nowhere near as openly accessible as it is now. As times have moved on, things have changed, and to my horror I discovered there’s something called the Open Electoral Roll. I knew about the standard electoral roll, but this version is different. This version contains all of your personal information; name, address, age etc – and it’s not only publicly available, but it can be bought and sold by people, companies and marketing outfits. I don’t know when this happened, but I must have missed the public service announcement, because unless you actively opt-out of this register, you’re right there on public display for literally anyone to find and track.
This is fucking horrifying.
A quick search of 192.com proved that not only did they have my current personal details all available, but also the details of who I have lived with, my family addresses, and every other property I’ve been in since I was old enough to vote. They also have this snazzy offer of a ‘background report’ on me, which you can access if you sign up for their premium membership.
Just fuck off. It’s enough to make me feel ill. I don’t think it’s paranoia to find this terrifying. There’s literally no way I want my personal details so easily trackable. How the hell I’ve not been rinsed with ID fraud yet I do not know, but what I do know is that something needs to be done about this.
Fixing This Shitstorm
Ok, so first thing’s first, if you’re also feeling the paranoia about this (and if you’re not, there’s something wrong), you need to get yourself opted out of that electoral roll and fast. Opting out of the open register will not affect your right to vote – you’ll still be recorded on the full roll, you just wont have your personal details available to be bought and accessed.
Check out the official guidance here on gov.uk about the two registers if you’re unsure.
I’ve re-registered to vote (not sure if this was the right thing to do but I was panicking) and checked the ‘opt-out’ box, but I’m also going to call up my local council on Tuesday and ask them to remove my details from it, just to be on the safe side.
Next – 192.com. They’ve got a form which you can fill out and send them requesting the removal of your details. I’ve done this and emailed them about it yesterday, but I’m also going to chase it up with a phone call after the Easter weekend.
Here’s the link to their form – for some reason they’re making you go to the arse on of either printing it out and returning it via snail mail or editing a PDF and emailing it back. Apparently an online form would be too easy…
There’s probably a lot more to be done to sort this out, but these are the two immediate starting points I’ve discovered, so give them a go first.
Paranoia Or Preservation?
For me, it’s a bit of both. Honestly I’m probably not on anyone’s radar enough to be stalked or targeted, but the idea of someone being to access my personal information this easily is fucking terrifying. I feel like I need to do a thorough declutter of my online footprint now as well, and actually that’s no bad thing. I’ve become a bit careless with the information I allow to be shared, and in order to keep myself and my family’s life private and safe, I need to address that.
The digital age is going through some of it’s toughest privacy scrutiny ever right now, and so its time we all stopped to take stock of the online breadcrumb trail we’re leaving for others to follow. Do I want someone being able to potentially pass themselves off as me for a credit card? Do I want someone to be able to turn up on my doorstep or start sending shit to my house? No, do I fuck.
Paranoia or not, I’m going to be spending some time wiping all trace of my personal data (as much as I can, anyway) from the internet, and educating myself about how to clean up my muddy online footprints.
Do you plan to do the same?