While the Covid-19 Pandemic continues to wipe out millions of jobs in the US and across the world, there is a breed of individuals and companies profiting from your personal information online. By personal information I mean your name, physical address, phone number and more. These are personal data companies like BeenVerified, Intelius, Spokeo, WhitePages and even smaller sized like TruePeopleSearch, ZabaSearch, and even TotallyFreePeopleSearch.org, – a new entrant in the industry.
Here is how the personal information value chain goes;
Step 1: You obliviously open an account on a public website, fill in a form somewhere with your personal information or a document with your information gets uploaded and made accessible online.
Step 2: search engines come along and gobble up the data, organize it and store it in their servers.
Note: these search engine companies also profit from your information in more ways than one but that is a subject for another day.
Step 3: Data companies come along and scrape all the data from search engines to store in their own servers where they offer a “pay to access” solution. This is usually a onetime fee or a monthly subscription.
Note: The most sophisticated ones do not even need search engines, they create their own crawlers or search bots and send them off on the internet to find your personal information. They collect it and organize it in their databases independently. There are also those who simply buy your data from public records agents.
Step 4: They then present this data to their paying customers who are in desperate need of your information. This could be a private investigator sent to tail you, a bounty hunter, an identity snatcher or even that guy who asked for your number at an event last week and you snubbed him. Granted, it can also be from that new friend or colleague who just wants to run a birthday lookup so they can surprise you with a lovely gift or even an old friend looking you up.
These people will be willing to pay something like $9.99 dollars to access your full information. This could be your name, address, phone number, relatives list, credit score, previous addresses, age and more depending on which site you are using.
Step 5: They pay and then they are given full access to all the information carried by the site about you. There has been instances where the data is inaccurate but most of the time they get it right.
These sites receive millions of visitors each month and are able to convert at the least 1-3% of their visitors to become paying customers. So taking a site like BeenVerified.com, according to similarweb.com they get about 18 million visits per month. It further shows that about 15% (2,700 000) of their total visitor traffic go to Paypal and needless to say, going to Paypal means paying for a certain service.
BeenVerified offers a $7 trial to start with so let us assume that at least half of the 15% visitors actually buy something from them. This would mean a 1,350 000 buy the & dollar trial, which makes $9,4 million. Then there is the actual subscription service after the trial is over.
Now let’s say that converts at a mere 3% of the 1,3 million visitors who go to PayPal it would mean about 40,500 sales and with their least costly service of $27 for a month’s subscription, that is approximately $1 million per month. Add that to the trail sales and it becomes about $10 million per month revenue. This is only one site of many like this one.
For example, Whitepages.com gets 22 million visitors with 15% clicking a link to PayPal where they pay about $10 for a premium monthly subscription to the site, Intelius gets about 4 million visits, spokeo 13 million to name a few. Add up the estimated conversion numbers and you will see how much money is floating around in this industry.
Note: these are estimated figures and have not been verified with the websites or with the users. They are used for estimation purposes only.
Now here is how the ordinary people are getting a pie of this money.
Most of these websites offer what is known as an affiliate program. This is means any one can sign up and get paid a share of the revenue for each person they refer. So what some individuals have done is to create blogs that talk about people searching, phone number lookup, white pages, reverse address lookups etc. and then using search engine optimization tactics they rank their websites on Google for related keywords. Individuals land on their sites and get redirected to the people search sites. Imagine this process at scale and you will begin to comprehend the multi-million cash exchange happening here.
Alternative people search blogs create their own people search tools and databases and then offer it 100% completely free to their users. They then generate revenue via the affiliate links and pay per click ads found all over their website. Their databases may not be as big but they still do carry millions of pieces of information. Example sites include Peekyou, FastPeopleSearch, TruePeopleSearch, and TotallyFreePeopleSearch.org to name a few.
So the big question is, have you consented to having your information at the center of this personal data economy? If not, the solution is to remove yourself from their databases.
Simply go to any of the sites and on their navigation links and you should see the “removal link” or at least a contact us link to request the removal via a message. Fortunately, these companies are obliged to remove your name or they risk being fined or shut down.
So the next time you have to input your personal details, think twice and decide if you are okay with how it will probably enrich companies and individuals from all over the world.