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Top 10 companies that mine and sell your data: opt out now

(Tech News) Data mining is increasingly frequent, and it is alarming how many companies are selling information about you; here is how to opt out of the biggest offenders’ lists.

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Who is collecting and selling your data?

By now, you know that your information is valuable and is being sold and traded in the free market. Every click is tracked, email addresses are sold, and sometimes you just want it all to stop.

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Lifehacker recently reposted a list similar to one on Reddit, detailing the top 50 companies who are mining and selling your data. Here is a look at the top ten on that list and how you can opt of MORE. All of the companies in this top ten list are data brokers, so each removal is different and in some cases, complicated.

Below is a list of where to go and what to do:

1. Ameridex

Ameridex: will process email and postal mail opt-outs where required by law. In general, this applies to police officers and other public officials. Their data is pulled from public records and is over seven years old. They will process written requests only if there is a safety issue. For applicable written opt-outs, send mail to Ameridex PO Box 193061 San Francisco CA 94119-3051. They do not block retrievals of listed telephone numbers. You must notify your telephone company to delist your telephone number.

2. BeenVerified

By visiting the site’s FAQ section, you find the steps you will need to complete to remove your information. First, you will need search the site for your own information; you can do this from the BeenVerified homepage.

After you search for yourself, you will need to send an email to: support@beenverified.com including the following information: your name (exactly as shown in your search), your age, current address (city, state, zip), previous addresses, and listed relatives. The site does say, that it does not guarantee this will permanently remove your information, as they collect data from multiple sources and constantly update. Even after you remove yourself from this list, you may want to check back again and make sure you have not reappeared.

3. Email Finder

Email Finder is a data mining company that you can remove your data from by filling out the opt-out form. Simply fill it out and you should be removed from the site. Prior to filling out the form, you may want to conduct a search to make sure there are not multiple listings of your name/email address on the site. After filling out the form, they suggest searching again to insure that your information has been successfully removed.

4. InfoPay EmailTracer

Under their Terms of Service of InfoPay EmailTracer, you can find information about opting-out, however, it is complicated. They state according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) you may only opt-out if one of four conditions is present: (1) You are a state, local or federal law enforcement officer or public official and your position exposes you to a threat of death or serious bodily harm; or (2) you are a victim of identity theft; or (3) you are at risk of physical harm; or (4) you have evidence the record is incorrect or expunged. If any of these apply to you, you will need to follow the remaining five steps, which can be found here, near the bottom of the page.

5. Innovis

Innovis is perhaps the most difficult company from which to opt-out. To completely remove yourself from Innovis, complete the opt-out form. You can also call toll free (1-888-567-8688), or you can mail your request to: Consumer Assistance, P.O. Box 405, Pittsburgh, PA 15230-0495. If you opt-out online, you can also opt-out of Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Opting-out online only removes your name for five years, if you wish to opt-out permanently; you will need to do so by mail. To do this, simply print the electronic opt-out form and mail it back to Innovis.

6. LocatePeople.org

Under the LocatePeople.org Privacy Policy, you will see a section entitled, “removing your information from our databases” and this is a good starting place. Just like InfoPay, there are only four conditions in which you can apply to opt-out, but if one of the four apply to you, you will need to follow the remaining steps. They require a copy of your driver’s license, along with: your full name, date of birth, aliases, current address, previous addresses, phone, and email address. You will also need details of the records you want removed, and any applicable court orders. You can also mail or fax requests as needed. It can take up to six weeks for your information to be completely removed.

7. LocatePLUS

LocatePLUS will remove your information upon sending them an email request to do so. However, the same four conditions apply. If you are a LocatePLUS client, you can change your information by logging in, but be aware LocatePLUS states, “we are prohibited from removing records of its certified users, even after they have cancelled their account. LocatePLUS is prohibited from removing the account information of its registered users from its database for record keeping purposes.” So even if one of the conditions apply; you still may not be able to remove your information successfully. LocatePLUS also receives data from third-party providers (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion), so you will need to visit these sites to insure your information is fully removed.

8. MelissaData

MelissaData.com will block the records “they have control over” in their data base if you send them a signed letter including: your full name, aliases, complete address, any former addresses going back 20 years, and date of birth. You should also include a print out of the records you wish to have removed. Mail your request to: Opt-Out/People-Finders.ws
1821 Q Street, Sacramento, CA 95811. They do not guarantee this will completely remove you from the site because of third-party information.

9. Meredith Corporation

To remove your name and postal address from lists that Meredith Corporation sells or rents to third parties for their direct marketing purposes, send your request to them in a letter addressed to: Meredith Corporation, Opt-Out Postal, Attn: Circulation, 1716 Locust Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50309).

10. Merkle

Unfortunately, it is impossible to remove yourself from thie Merkle list. They state, “Merkle does not collect data directly from consumers except for information collected as part of our clients’ marketing programs.”

Opt out of even more:

If you would like to see the complete list of all fifty companies that mine and sell your data, visit StopDataMining.Me.

Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

Tech News

Tired of transcribing screenshots? Put this Chrome extension to work

(TECH NEWS) This new Chrome extension takes out the tedium of transcribing all your necessary screenshots into your writing and does it for you.

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Logo for Docsumo, a transcribing Google Chrome extension

My favorite part of being a writer is getting to interview people from various walks of life. My least favorite part of being a writer is transcribing those interviews.

Slightly easier, but still annoying, is transcribing information from a screenshot, photo file or PDF. Sometimes you have to get this information in a rush and retyping all of it slows you down.

Docsumo is making that process into a breeze. The tool allows for users to grab text from a screenshot for easy copy and paste.

So how does it work? First, it has to be downloaded as a Google Chrome extension. Once it’s part of the browser’s extension, it can be put to work.

A video on Docsumo’s website demonstrates the easy transcribing process. The developer does a Google image search for a shipping label as they need to quickly copy and paste an address. When the necessary label pops up, they click the Docsumo tool that allows them to drag and select the part of the label they want to transcribe (the movement of the mouse is similar to taking a screenshot on a Mac computer).

Then, the text that they’ve highlighted is transcribed into a box where it can be copied and pasted. Simple!

In addition to copy and paste, users can extract, edit, and share data. After that, all of the related information is removed from Docsumo’s server. Examples of when this tool is useful include: Invoices, bank statements, insurance documents, bills, and tax forms.

The tool is made possible through Optimal Character Recognition (OCR) which, according to Ducsumo’s developers, is something that comes in handy in many situations.

“Organizations often receive crucial information and data in image form of documents. These images can be a photo of a document, scanned document, a scene-photo, or subtitle text superimposed on an image. The real challenge for the operation team is to be able to extract information and data from these photos. It can take hours to manually pull out this data and assemble it in a structured way for record-keeping and processing. This process is hugely error-prone too.

OCR technology comes to rescue in this situation.

Optical character recognition or optical character reader (OCR) is the electronic or mechanical conversion of images of typed, handwritten or printed text into machine-encoded text. This technology is suitable for photos of text-heavy documents and printed paper data records such as passports, invoices, bank statements, receipts, business cards, and identity verification documents. OCR technology is the way of digitizing printed texts so that they can be electronically edited, searched, and stored more compactly.”

In a world where pen-to-paper has slowly been fading away, Docsumo is here to give it another push further away.

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Tech News

Scoring productivity: Is this Microsoft tool creepy or helpful?

(TECH NEWS) Microsoft launched a new tool that helps monitor user data, but it’s not a work monitoring tool – it’s trying to judge productivity.

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Black and white data screens monitoring productivity.

Just recently into the work from home movement, Microsoft launched their new tool, “Productivity Score”. According to Microsoft, this tool helps organizations understand how well they are functioning, how technology affects their productivity, and how they can get the most out of their Microsoft 365 purchase.

But to do all of this, the tool will keep track of how each employee is using Microsoft products. For instance, the tool will monitor how often video or screen sharing is enabled during meetings by employees.

It will keep a metric of how employees are communicating. It will show if employees are sending out emails through Outlook, sending out messages through Teams, or posting on Yammer. It will also keep track of which Microsoft tools are being used more and on which platforms.

So, Microsoft’s new tool is a scary work surveillance tool, right? According to Microsoft, it isn’t. In a blog post, Microsoft 365’s corporate Vice President Jared Spataro said, “Productivity Score is not a work monitoring tool. Productivity Score is about discovering new ways of working, providing your people with great collaboration, and technology experiences.”

Spataro says the tool “focuses on actionable insights” so people and teams can use Office 365 tools to be more productive, collaborative, and help make work improvements. And, while this all sounds good, privacy advocates aren’t too thrilled about this.

Microsoft says it is “committed to privacy as a fundamental element of Productivity Score.” To maintain privacy and trust, the tool does aggregate user data over a 28-day period. And, there are controls to anonymize user information, or completely remove it. However, by default individual-level monitoring is always on, and only admins can make any of these changes. Employees can’t do anything about securing their privacy.

So, user data privacy is still a large issue on the table, but privacy advocates can breathe a sigh of relief. Yesterday, they got a response from Microsoft they can smile about. In another blog post, Spataro responded to the controversy. “No one in the organization will be able to use Productivity Score to access data about how an individual user is using apps and services in Microsoft 365,” he said.

Although Productivity Score will still aggregate data over a 28-day period, it will not do so from an individual employee level. It will do it from an organizational one as a whole. Also, the company is making it clearer that the tool is a “measure of organizational adoption of technology—and not individual user behavior.”

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Tech News

Don’t want FB getting access to your texts? Try out Signal instead

(TECH NEWS) Elon Musk tells Twitter followers to “Use Signal” after WhatsApp announces new Facebook data-sharing policy.

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Signal app product display on two mockup phones, set on a blue background.

With just a two-word tweet, Elon Musk popularized messaging app, Signal at the beginning of this year. “Use Signal,” the tech mogul tweeted on January 7. Musk urged his followers to start using Signal because of WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy announcement, which raised concerns among people.

On January 6, WhatsApp users received an in-app alert informing them about the company’s updated data-sharing policy. The message asked users to accept the new terms and conditions where they gave WhatsApp consent to share their information with Facebook. The updated policy would be effective starting on February 8, and users who didn’t agree to the changes would no longer be able to use the app.

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy reads, “As part of the Facebook family of companies, WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, this family of companies. We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings.”

The policy verbiage is concerning, but this isn’t the first time WhatsApp has shared some sort of data with Facebook. The company has been sharing data with Facebook since 2016. Back then, the companies announced sharing data would help “improve your Facebook ads and products experiences.”

But, Facebook’s data privacy practices are ones that have been controversial over the years and don’t garner much trust. Musk is recommending people to start using Signal because it offers two key things.

The app offers end-to-end encryption on ALL messages. It protects all text, video, audio, and photo messages, which can only be read by the sender and recipient. If a message is intercepted by anyone else, all they will get is gibberish.

Also, other than your phone number, the free app does not store or collect any other user data. The company is a nonprofit and relies on grants and donations to support development. It isn’t owned by any tech companies and doesn’t have any ads.

“The smallest of events helped trigger the largest of outcomes,” the app’s Executive chairman Brian Acton said in an interview with TechCrunch. “We’re also excited that we are having conversations about online privacy and digital safety and people are turning to Signal as the answer to those questions.”

In a Tweet, the company posted screenshots of app installs jumping from 10 million to 50 million. With Musk’s tweet skyrocketing Signal’s downloads, Acton does have a very good reason to be “excited”.

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