Many women gamers and developers, as well as those who support them, have lately come under attack from online trolls. A common intimidation tactic that trolls use is "doxxing," or publicly exposing their targets' personal details, including home address, phone number and even financial records.
Doxxing is often accompanied by threats of violence, sexual assault or murder. The message is clear: We're out to get you, and we know where you live. Some women in tech haveleft their chosen profession rather than deal with continued threats.
But anyone is susceptible to doxxing, as game developer Phil Fish discovered this summer after speaking up in defense of a female developer. As the host of a feminist podcast, I decided to take the precaution of trying to remove public records of my whereabouts.
Unfortunately, doxxers don't have to work very hard to find a victim's personal info. A number of free and paid services known as data brokers create profiles of vast numbers of individuals based on aggregated data from business directories, social media and other public records. With a specific target in mind, all a doxxer has to do is search one or more of these services to find the details he or she wants.
More bad news: There are hundreds of data brokers, not all of which offer opt-out processes. (Exceptions are made for state-mandated protected groups, such as sexual assault survivors in California.) Removing yourself from all those that do can be a Sisyphean task, but managing your data with just the following 11 can be accomplished in an hour or two.
I selected these brokers based on the following factors:
- What those who have been doxxed cited as services that were used against them
- Search results for my own name
- Consultation with Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and author of Data Brokers and Your Privacy
Note that some opt-out forms paradoxically require you to submit personal data in order to have it removed; be your own judge of whether this is wise. (I recommend creating a temporary email address specifically for these requests.)
Also note that with most of these services you'll receive a confirmation email shortly after you submit your removal request. If you don't see the email in your inbox, check your spam filter.
Here's what I found when I tried to opt out of each one.
Opt-out form: http://www.spokeo.com/opt_out/new
Verification needed: Email address
Promised turnaround time: 30 minutes
My opt-out result: Effective
Spokeo is used by many doxxers; fortunately, it has one of the easiest opt-out methods. Just search for yourself in the site's directory; when you find a record that matches your identity, copy the URL and submit it via the opt-out form. After you confirm your email address, your listing should be removed. Note that you may need to search by several criteria — name, email address, phone number(s), social media usernames — to find all your records.
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