In the past, we only had to worry about hackers wanting to steal our data. Now everyone wants a slice of the pie.
Over the past few years, companies have become increasingly rabid about data collection. While legislation has stepped up, it’s nowhere near addressing our needs. If you’re sick of getting flooded with unsolicited emails and endless unwanted marketing pitches, so am I.
Incogni is too, and they’re trying to help.
You may have heard that data is the new oil.
With over 6.5 billion internet users worldwide and 3.5 billion people using social media, there’s a lot of information available for companies to collect. With that information, they claim the ability to improve your life dramatically. That means more accurate maps, relevant deals, and even suggesting when to stop looking at your phone.
Yet, do you know what data is being collected by whom and for what purpose? If not, it’s time to meet the data broker.
Data brokers collect, use and share your information with other companies. This collection can happen when you sign up for a service or visit a website, or it may be that the data broker is getting their information from another source such as Facebook, Twitter, or Google.
The average person’s browsing history contains over 60,000 data points. It’s bad enough that the data is wantonly collected, but in some cases, it gets misused.
Take the Cambridge Analytica scandal, for instance. Data from millions of Facebook users ended up being used to shape US elections. As you might imagine, data brokers also don’t always tell us clearly how they use our personal information.
If you’re getting pretty disgusted by now, it’s time to meet Incogni.
Incogni is the brainchild of Surfshark, a company that made its name in the Virtual Private Network (VPN) space. Surfshark started in 2018 and is one of the most impressive VPN companies I’ve encountered. In a few short years, they’ve gone from zero to hero.
Even today, Surfshark offers consumers a reliable VPN service at an unbelievable value.
Meanwhile, they’re transitioning toward becoming an Internet security provider instead of just a VPN service.
Incogni is their latest offering, and the service concept is simple: Sign up, and they’ll remove your information from the hands of data brokers.
Think of Incogni as your private legal firm dedicated to eliminating your data from the hands of data brokers. All you need to do is let Incogni know who you are. With that information in hand, Incogni will reach out to its database of data brokers and essentially serve them notice.
The process is also pretty transparent. Incogni lets you know who they’re reaching out to, their progress with each data broker, and their current status. It’s a concierge service, except that you’re paying a fraction of the retainer fee a legal firm would charge.
It’s important to understand that Incogni isn’t a law firm and doesn’t provide legal advice. They merely do the grunt work on your behalf – claiming the rights you should have from these companies.
You can do the same thing Incogni does, and most data brokers will comply – after making you jump through so many hoops that you’ll regret trying. And like the Incogni service, there are no guaranteed results – it’s simply on a “best-effort” basis.
Since I’ve been watching the digital privacy and security service for so long, I felt unsuitable for assessing Incogni properly. So, I reached out to someone I knew had no technical background – my darling sister.
I provided her with a subscription code to Incogni for a year’s worth of service. It’s been a few months since then, and I’ve heard some very positive things. Keep in mind that this isn’t a technical review but the opinions of an average consumer. Here’s the feedback I received (verbatim):
It’s super user friendly, and I don’t know how it will work, but it accepted log in, took coupon but did ask for a credit card, and identified 76 mostly marketing sites. It sounds like an excellent service, and I can see a fairly good market for this service. After all, we pay Experian, Equifax, etc., to watch our credit reports, or our banks do. For $60+ a year, it’s not a lot compared to Credit Karma.”
This is a proactive service that contacts these companies to remove your info and walk you through what happens when you contact them and if they contact you. It’s the equivalent of “talk to my lawyers.” I can say that IF this works, I will be renewing next year.”
They drop me an email every month since sign up with updates on the companies they’ve reached out to and what the responses have been. I don’t know if that’s a good follow-up, but I see less spam in my email.”
From an average consumer point of view, I’d say that Incogni seems pretty effective so far. It’s important to note that while my sister seems to focus on spam, the data removal also reduces the risk that companies will misuse her information.
The Incogni service isn’t a one-off thing and it takes a lot of time to work with data brokers for information removal. Because of that, an annual subscription to Incogni would be considered at best, a minimum requirement.
From observation, I would say you need to take a few months at least to see how well it’s working for you. Variables such as which data brokers have your data and how long they try to drag matters out will affect individual results.
Don’t step into Incogni thinking you can get rid of them once you’re “clean.”
Even if the data brokers remove your information today, there’s no guarantee they won’t start collecting that same data over again in the future. The only way you’ll have a chance at that is likely going to be with a prolonged and very costly legal battle.
Many caveats come to mind when recommending Incogni. After all, much depends on where you live since data brokers often operate based on localized legislation. To know if Incogni suits you, I’d say the biggest concern is your location:
Incogni seems designed in many ways to fill the needs of the US market. That includes covered data brokers, US legislation, and competitive pricing to domestic alternatives. I highly suggest trying out Incogni’s service if you live in the US.
While Incogni claims to support the needs of UK and EU residents, I’m not confident how effective (or necessary) the service could be. EU data protection laws are pretty strict, and I can imagine EU governments keeping a close eye on data brokers.
However, as mentioned, the legislation simply can’t keep up with the activities of these data collectors, and prevention is better than cure. With the strength of the euro, a year’s worth of Incogni should be money well-spent to at least assess your standing with the data brokers.
For residents outside the continental US and Europe, the question of Incogni is moot. The service isn’t available outside these regions. That means all of Asia (including Australia and Japan) is excluded. The reason why isn’t made exactly clear.
Data collection is out of control today, and legislation is nowhere near adequate. That’s also only half the problem, since the web that data brokers weave makes enforcement a nightmare for consumers who have little help.
Services like Incogni have a genuine place in the world at the moment, arguably a critical one. They bring a much-needed service into the hands of individuals at prices that most would be happy to pay. But it’s also important to remember that no protection is perfect.
As technology evolves, so do the methods of those who would breach it. It will be interesting to see how Incogni, its future competitors, and data brokers evolve.
Timothy Shim is a former tech journalist who has turned his experience towards his business as a writer, editor and content strategist. Today, he helps businesses craft compelling messages and advises on SEO, content marketing, and social media strategy.