Separating your online persona from your personal information has always been a safety and wellbeing concern for content creators. Recently, there has been a drastic uptick in content creators sharing stories of people finding and using their personal information to stalk, harass, and literally invade their private spaces. Most recently, popular streamer and content creator Amouranth has detailed the harrowing events of an alleged stalker attempting to break into her home. Even if you believe you have taken all appropriate steps to keep your personal information private, remaining vigilant and checking for privacy blind spots is essential. This post outlines areas where your personal information may be available to the public and how to mitigate the disclosure of, or remove, such information.
Business Entity Information
Generally, registering a business entity like an LLC may ask you to disclose the names and contact information for all managers, owners, agents, officers, and agents. Some States even require these disclosures. However, states like Delaware, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming do not require owners, members, or mangers of Limited Liability Companies to provide their identities. Known as “anonymous LLCs,” registering your LLC in these states with the minimum amount of information required can help prevent your personal information from being readily accessible by bad actors.
An important caveat to this supposed anonymity is that even if you register an LLC in one of these confidential states but register to do business in a state that requires disclosure of ownership, you may lose the protection of your information. Depending on the State, there may be complex solutions to this forced disclosure though.
If you’ve registered any trademarks, like your brand or your logo, the information you included in your application is freely searchable by the public. Such information potentially includes your address and contact information. You can shield your personal information in your trademark registration by specifying different addresses for your street and domicile (home) addresses. Your street address will be public, and your domicile address will be private. If you do not have a formal business address for your street address, you can use a P.O. Box, virtual office, or a c/o address. Ensure that you follow such steps for any new trademark registrations you file to protect your information.
To change your existing domicile address on a trademark registration, file a Change Address or Representation (CAR) form with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Note that while this will update your address on the trademark registration, this does not remove your previously used address from the public record.
Many states make property records searchable online. If possible, protect your personal information by buying property through an anonymous entity or through a trust. A trust is a private system or arrangement where title to property is held by one person or entity for the benefit of other people or entities. After creating, signing, and notarizing a trust document that specifies how the assets are going to be managed and distributed, transfer your home or other real estate property into a trust by updating your deed with your trustee’s name as the new owner by signing front a notary public. Then file your new deed with the proper office. Of course, if you have an existing mortgage, you’ll want to speak with your mortgage-holder about how to facilitate this transfer in an appropriate way.
Criminal and Court Records
Your information will be included on arrest records, in criminal cases or civil cases of which you were personally involved. Though the process and requirements vary from state to state, you can ask the court to seal your record to keep all or portion of any document, exhibit, or transcript filed or lodged with the court to be kept confidential, omitted, or blanked out. If you are experiencing harassment or being threatened, consider seeking out a restraining order or injunction with the court and using it as the basis for your motion to seal.
Information brokers collect personal information from a wide variety of public and private sources that they sell or license for a fee. Such information can include your name, address, relatives, and other contact information. Each site likely has its own opt-out process, or you can use paid data removal services such as DeleteMe, Reputation Defender, or OneRep to delete at least some of your information from these sites.
While it is incredibly difficult to hide all personal information from the internet, the above steps are some easy ways to remove and/or limit the personal information available about you. When it comes to privacy, a little knowledge and action can go a long way to protect yourself.
(This post was authored by Patrick Hankins, Associate Attorney at Quiles Law)
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