Data brokers are a major problem for anyone who values their privacy. Using multiple sources, these organizations collect information such as your name, address, marital status, Social Security Number, medical history, employment history, and financial records. Using this information, they create incredibly detailed profiles of regular people like you and me. In this Incogni review, we are going to examine a tool to mitigate this problem.
Data brokers are a big problem for the privacy conscious
How big of a problem is this? As far back as 2014, Phil Miu at giant data broker Acxiom stated,
For every consumer we have more than 5,000 attributes of customer data.
Two examples of customer attributes might be that you like iPhones, and that you drive an SUV. That’s an awful lot of data stored about each of the millions of customers. They then use those profiles themselves and/or sell them to pretty much anyone who cares to buy them.
Add in the fact that we’ve seen estimates of the number of data broker firms ranging from 500 to 4,000 companies, and you start to see the scope of the problem.
There ought to be a law…
There are laws that force data brokers in certain countries to remove your data from their database if you request it. One such law is the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA). Another is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a regulation protecting privacy in the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA).
The regulations that empower Incogni
Incogni relies on the data removal rights granted by the CCPA, GDPR, and other privacy regulations such as Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) to compel data brokers to, well, remove your personal data from their databases.
While these laws and regulations cover specific areas of the world, to avoid complications, data brokers often comply with them even if the person whose data they are deleting doesn’t live in one of the covered areas. Right now, Incogni serves residents of the United States, UK, Canada, Switzerland, and the EU.
But laws and regulations aren’t the full answer
These and other laws and regulations mean that you can get your data removed from online databases. But considering that your data is how they make their money, data brokers have plenty of incentive to hang onto your personal information as long as possible by making the data removal process as slow and inconvenient as possible.
Doing things yourself
It usually takes multiple exchanges of messages, with days or even weeks between replies just to complete one data removal request and get your data removed from one broker’s database. Then recall that you’ll need to go through a similar process of sending data removal requests hundreds, possibly thousands of times, and it is clear you can’t win on your own.
Incogni battles the data brokers for you
This is where Incogni comes in. This service was developed by Surfshark, the secure, trustworthy VPN company that you’ve seen featured on this site many times. Incogni deals with data brokers on your behalf so that you don’t have to generate countless data removal requests and comply with broker’s cumbersome data removal request processes on your own.
The data Incogni needs
You give Incogni the minimum amount of personal data necessary for data broker companies to search their database looking for records about you. The information Incogni needs is your:
- Email address
- Full name
- Home address
- City of residence
- Country of residence
- Zip code
While this might seem like a lot of info, we trust Incogni that it is the minimum necessary. And things could be much worse. We’ve heard of data brokers requiring things like a copy of your ID along with a photograph of you holding your ID before they will process data removal requests requests from individuals.
The Incogni team estimates over 300 hours of work to send data removal requests to just the 100+ data brokers Incogni is currently working with.
Now that you have a sense of why you might want to let this service deal with the data brokers for you, let me walk you through how to sign up and get started.
How to get started with Incogni
Getting started just takes a couple of moments. Go to Incogni.com and click either the Sign up or Get started button. You’ll see the Sign up to get started screen.
Sign up to get started screen
Enter your Email address and a Password. It is important to enter the email address you usually use to register for services here, as that increases the chance data brokers will be able to find and eliminate your personal data.
Click Continue to open the Personal Information screen.
Personal information screen
Now let’s examine the personal information screen from our account with this Incogni review.
You should fill out all the information on this screen. Incogni says this is the minimum amount of additional personal data (besides your email address) they need to send to the data brokers for data removal requests. Click Next when done. You’ll see the Power of Attorney screen.
Power of Attorney screen
You need to to complete the Power of Attorney document before Incogni can contact data brokers. This document confirms to the data brokers that they are receiving official data removal requests, not some random vandalism by someone who happens to know your personal data.
In case you were wondering what you need to agree to in this document, here is the first part of the document as of July 24, 2022:
Note that this is actually a limited power of attorney. This is important. A limited power of attorney deals only with the specific rights listed in the document. In this case, with exercising your rights under applicable privacy legislation. You aren’t giving Incogni unlimited power over your life or anything like that.
Sign the document using your mouse or whatever pointing device works for you. Then click Verify to see the Verify your email screen.
Verify your email screen
This is the usual deal where they send you an email message that you must respond to in order to activate your account.
Once you return to your account you will see the Payment screen. You can choose between the monthly plan and the annual plan. You can see the prices fore each of these below.
If you go with the monthly plan, you can of course cancel after one month and save yourself a lot of money. However, it may still be worthwhile to go with the annual plan. If you go monthly, Incogni contacts data brokers for you as you would expect. But if you cancel after a month or two, you lose out on two things.
First, Incogni frequently adds a new data broker to the list of brokers they deal with. If you are subscribed when they do, they will automatically send an official removal request for you.
Second, if you cancel your subscription, you lose access to the Incogni Dashboard. This means you won’t be able to see the status of the official removal requests in progress.
Whichever plan you choose, you will need to select it on the Payment screen and complete the payment process.
When you are done with all that, your account will go live and you will be able to open Incogni to the Dashboard.
The Incogni Dashboard
The Dashboard makes it easy to see what is happening with your official removal requests. As you can see in the image below, The Dashboard shows the number of removal Requests sent, the Requests in progress, and the Requests completed.
The Dashboard gives you the big picture view of Incogni’s progress, and is pretty self-explanatory. But if you want to dig down deeper, you can select the Detailed view tab.
The Detailed view
The Detailed view tab identifies the specific data brokers Incogni has contacted on your behalf.
Like the Dashboard, the Deleted view tab shows how many requests you sent, how many requests are in progress and how many have been completed. It also shows you the names of every broker it contacted, along with their individual status.
Clicking the down arrow to the right of the name of a broker displays detailed information about that broker. Here is an example of a detailed broker report:
A detailed look at a specific broker
If you want to get down to the details for each individual broker that Incogni contacted on your behalf, this is where you do it.
You get a short summary of the company, along with the following:
- Status – The status of your request.
- Category – The type of data the broker specializes in. Some of the possibilities are Marketing, Recruitment, Risk Mitigation, People Search, Financial Information, and Health Information. You can get more details on the Category in the information box at the bottom of the entry.
- Data sensitivity – Incogni calculates, “…the sensitivity based on how sensitive the type of data collected by each broker is. E.g. brokers that collect SSNs (Social Security Numbers) have a higher sensitivity rating than those that collect only names and phone numbers.”
Using Incogni is simplicity itself, since once you sign up, they do (almost) all the work. Most of the time you just sit back and let the system do its thing, maybe checking on once a week or so to see how many brokers have responded.
That said, there are a few more things you should know about the way Incogni works. You might even have to do some additional work to keep things moving along, like I did. You should know that:
Incogni doesn’t deal with all the data brokers
While Incogni deals with an ever increasing number of data brokers, they do not come close to 100% coverage. The number of data brokers they work with at this time is somewhere around 200, while the number of brokers in existence is somewhere between a few hundred and a few thousand. And new data brokers appear all the time to get themselves a piece of the user data gravy train.
It is highly unlikely that Incogni will ever be able to achieve anything close to full coverage. Still, removing your data from one hundred or more locations is certainly better than nothing!
Incogni doesn’t know which brokers have your data
Incogni has no practical way to know which brokers have your data in their databases. Interestingly, they don’t simply blast data removal requests to every company for every person who signs up for the service. According to their website, Incogni has an internal algorithm that figures out which databases are likely to contain your data, and sends requests only to those brokers. We don’t have any idea how this algorithm works presume that it makes the whole process more efficient and doesn’t result in a lot of likely databases being missed.
Incogni doesn’t know if a broker has actually removed your data
Because Incogni doesn’t have direct access to the databases of data brokers, they cannot directly confirm that a broker has removed your data. They instead rely on the fact that there are legal penalties for not removing someone’s data after it has been requested.
You can only enter one email address (for now)
As of July 2022, Incogni only supports a single email address for each of their users. According to the Incogni FAQ they will be adding support for multiple email addresses, but they do not specify a date by which this will happen.
Dealing with emails from data brokers
You may receive emails from some of the companies contacted by Incogni. We received several in the course of our testing.
There are several types of messages, each of which requires a different type of handling. Here is one example:
My first inclination with this message was to say that the job was done and forget about it. But email messages you receive from the brokers (including this one) usually require some action on your part. Explaining what to do with each type is outside the scope of this Incogni review.
If you receive an email from a broker or their agent, refer to this broker email support page for specific instructions.
Here are some of the most common questions about Incogni:
Yes, we are confident that Incogni is legit. This service was built by Surfshark, the same people that brought us the widely respected Surfshark VPN.
As of July 2022, a monthly subscription to Incogni cost $5.79/mo, billed monthly. An annual subscription plan costs $69.48, billed annually.
Incogni acts on your behalf to compel data brokers to remove your data from their databases. They contact data brokers with official data removal requests and rely on the CCPA and GDPR data-protection regulations to compel the data brokers to comply.
Incogni is very user friendly. It is easy to set up, and the dashboard is well organized. It will take just a few moments to get set up. The time is mainly needed to enter the minimum set of personal information Incogni needs to give to data brokers so they can identify you in their database, or confirm that they do not have your personal data.
The dashboard lets you tell at a glance what kind of progress Incogni is making in getting your data deleted.
At the time of this Incogni review, the service is only available for residents of the US, UK, Canada, Switzerland, and EU.
Since Incogni is going to send data removal requests on your behalf, the data brokers need some way to know that the requests are legitimate. The Power of Attorney document proves that Incogni is authorized to request data removal on your behalf.
These are regulations governing the use and protection of your data online. CCPA is the California Consumer Privacy Act, and GDPR is the General Data Protection Regulation which applies to all the countries that are part of the EU (European Union).
General Data Protection Regulation which applies to all the countries that are part of the EU (European Union).
Incogni Review Conclusion
Incogni is an easy-to-use, yet powerful tool for getting your personal data removed from at last some of the data brokerage firms that are springing up all over the place. It is not the only product that aims to help you deal with this problem, but it comes with a reasonable price tag and the pro-privacy pedigree of the Surfshark family.
If you want a low-hassle way to reduce your data footprint on on and off the internet, you’ll like Incogni.