“It Feels Like Whack-a-mole”: User Experiences of Data Removal from People Search Websites

Authors: Kejsi Take (New York University), Kevin Gallagher (DCentral/INESC-ID, Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa), Andrea Forte (Drexel University), Damon McCoy (New York University), Rachel Greenstadt (New York University)

Volume: 2022
Issue: 3
Pages: 159–178
DOI: https://doi.org/10.56553/popets-2022-0067

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Abstract: People Search Websites aggregate and publicize users’ Personal Identifiable Information (PII), previously sourced from data brokers. This paper presents a qualitative study of the perceptions and experiences of 18 participants who sought information removal by hiring a removal service or requesting removal from the sites. The users we interviewed were highly motivated and had sophisticated risk perceptions. We found that they encountered obstacles during the removal process, resulting in a high cost of removal, whether they requested it themselves or hired a service. Participants perceived that the successful monetization of users PII motivates data aggregators to make the removal more difficult. Overall, self management of privacy by attempting to keep information off the internet is difficult and its’ success is hard to evaluate. We provide recommendations to users, third parties, removal services and researchers aiming to improve the removal process.

Keywords: privacy, people search websites, risk perceptions, online harassment, data brokers

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