Around New Year’s, I got a call from a friend who had a client that wanted to know how to remove her personal information from the internet. I recalled bookmarking an article about a new data privacy service earlier, so I thought this would be an easy question to answer. The service seemed like what my friend was looking for so I decided to give the company a spin.
I understand the need for privacy and wanting to control personal information. It was several years ago I got a strange reader request asking me to remove their entries from my web server logs. That question led me to write about web server logs and privacy . The difference with this question was this user’s data wasn’t in a place I controlled. Instead, a user’s data can reside in a number of databases belonging to such firms like Acxiom, Intelius, Epsilon, Private Eye and more. Often times the data propagates to other services and sites.
It turned out the new data privacy service I read about in Andy Greenberg’s article was for MelonCard. Although I don’t understand the name, I understood the concept. They provide a service where you can remove and monitor your personal information with various data vendors. In some cases, you may not want your info removed so lost friends or classmates can find you.
Internet Privacy Acid Test
To MelonCard’s credit, you can set up a free account where you get an idea of what information is out there by submitting a short form. You might think of this as an internet privacy acid test. (Note: The red asterisk icons in the right corner are from my Lastpass browser add-on.)
As expected, MelonCard found numerous entries based on the info I provided. At this point, I got an indication of which services the company worked with, the risk level and type of information. The “risk level” is determined by what the vendor does with your personal information. If I wasn’t familiar with the data vendor, I could do a mouse over on the Remove button and see a snippet about them.
My Dashboard displayed:
 How many records it had purged
 My overall privacy grade
 Name of each data vendor
 Risk level
 Whether an account update was needed to request removal
I didn’t see any information vendors where I could remove my personal info without an account upgrade, but that may be a result of my record set. As the saying goes, “your mileage may differ”. I thought the value proposition was good enough to commit to a paid account.
One of the main benefits of MelonCard is you don’t have to deal with each data vendor, which can be a huge time commitment. If you don’t believe me, try going through these opt-out and removal instructions. You’ll probably waste a whole day of productivity. Instead, you have a dashboard where you can monitor your results. I was also impressed with the pledge they offered and support.
Removing Your Personal Information
After signing up for a paid account, I started the main task of requesting removal from the various vendors it found. I think it would help if they list the vendors they work with so people know if they need to do a manual removal request.
In some cases, the process simply required me to click the Remove button. From there, Melon’s system interfaces with the data vendor and provides them with the required information so it looks like the information removal request is coming from you.
MelonCard also provides guidance as to when the vendor will remove your personal information. Some data vendors, such as Spokeo, were particularly good and sent me emails within minutes of the request and the confirmation came the same day. Others take more time such as Acxiom.
As you progress, the system adjusts your Privacy Grade and Records Purged count. I wasn’t quite sure if these counts and grade adjusted based on my submitting the request or confirmation. It would be helpful if that number were a link that displayed my requests and status. Again, documentation or a FAQ would help.
Unfortunately, data vendors don’t have the same ground rules when it comes to removing your personal information. That would just be too easy. Some require more information about you before they will remove your record. In those cases, the Remove button is replaced with a Need More Info link. The system then indicates which additional fields are required such as a state ID or phone number. In the case of a state ID, you need to upload an image of your ID card. I snapped a copy of my driver’s license with a cell phone and then used my favorite graphics utility program, SnagIt, to redact my photo and license number.
My Account Panel
Within the MelonCard portal, you have a panel called “My Account”. This is where the system stores information about you such as date of birth, aliases, phone numbers and so on. This is also where you upload your state ID pictures.
I found the page confusing and it presented a frustrating experience. In my case, the system had erroneous information that I wished to correct including DOB, addresses and aliases. I tried correcting the information and providing additional details, but could never get all the edits to stick.
I would get non actionable error messages like “State field can’t be blank” or “Value has already been taken”. I found myself yelling at the computer asking if I could buy a clue as my state field was there. And I have no idea about the value error message.
I also ran into problems when trying to remove aliases and alternate names that were not mine. The system would tell me the field couldn’t be blank. I have to have an alias? There is no information to help you here so I just kept the entries. Some of these aliases were spelling variations of my last name and others baffled me.
Premium Support to the Rescue?
I’ve been around long enough to know that new services have issues and bugs. In fairness, many websites have bugs and usability issues. But, I figured that if I submitted the issues to MelonCard, they would at least acknowledge them even if they couldn’t fix them immediately. After all, they did reference “instant customer service” in their offering for premium subscribers.
I wish I could say all my issues have been resolved but some still exist. Actually, I’d be thrilled to say they acknowledged me. I sent:
- 2 emails
- 1 voicemail to premium support
- 1 voicemail to the number that appeared on my card statement
I also attempted chat several times, but no one ever seemed to be online.
If MelonCard had responded, I would have given it a positive recommendation despite the interface glitches. Until their support issues are resolved, I’d suggest holding off unless you’ve got patience and perseverance. It saddens me to say this as there is a need for a service to help users remove their personal information from the internet. I hope they improve as they’re not alone in this market and have some established, but more costly competitors.
Update: 1/16/2012 - I got an email from the company apologizing for the service. They also suggested I check back in a couple of weeks to look at the next generation of the MelonCard service. Stay tuned.
MelonCard Product Review Info
- URL: http://www.meloncard.com
- Date Reviewed: 1/14/2012
- Pricing: $65 per year
- Rating: ★★1/2
Last Updated (Thursday, 08 March 2012 11:58)