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Get proactive about sites that post personal information

If you're worried about what personal information is out there on the Web about you, be aware of Spokeo.com.

I typed in my name and it listed a good deal of information that I would never dare put on my social networks. It listed my address. Everyone in my household. My age. My relationship status. My zodiac. My ethnicity. It didn't know my occupation (ironically the easiest information to find about me).

It listed my interests (which it says are toys and reading). It says I have children when I don't. And for a price you could find out my credit and all the info about me on social networks.

But there is a way to take it off.

According Spokeo's site, it "aggregates publicly available information from phone books, social networks, marketing surveys, real estate listings, business websites, and other public sources. Spokeo does not originate data or publish user-generated content like Facebook or MySpace.''

That should make you think twice before filling out some online survey about your household. Here's how to get delisted from Spokeo:

On the very bottom right of the homepage, click the gray "Privacy'' link. Enter the URL of your profile. Type in an e-mail address. Spokeo then sends a link to that e-mail address for you to get rid of your listing.

My parents aren't even on any social network, but they were on here. As our column often points out, there's a lot on the Internet about you. And even when you think you're being good by using privacy settings in Facebook, it's still hard to control everything.

Be aware that there also are sites that aggregate every little thing you've ever put publicly on the Web and put it in a social search engine. Go to PeekYou.com and search your name. It had my old MySpace handle, MySpace picture and an incorrect age. It's all stuff I put on the Web, so it's not terrible, but it's not exactly the image I care to represent my professional persona. You can't delete a profile, but you can become a member and "contribute'' the correct information to any profile.

PeekYou says: "The information on PeekYou is already out there. By organizing that data into a better, more useful search engine, we in turn help the public become more aware of both the potential powers and liabilities associated with public knowledge.''

You can contribute by deleting fields. I deleted a bunch and it still had my name, city I worked in and my job. I can upload a photo I like or write the bio the way I want it -- if I so desire.

On the bright side, these sites typically don't appear high on the list when you search your name on Google, Yahoo! or Bing. The popular social networks you belong to, like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter, will usually be the first results that show up.

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Having your personal information "removed" from these sites does not guarantee that it will not end up back on the site the next time their database is updated with public records and social media data.

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