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I have found that a lot of my personal info is now available on a bunch of websites that collect data and resell it. I'm talking about those 'find anything about anyone' websites.

A lot of the data is also inaccurate.

Since a lot of these companies are American and I have lived my life half US / half EU and I'm now an EU resident, I was wondering:

  • does the GDPR applies to them?
  • does the GDPR applies to data they claim was 'public', but I see that this is not really true?
  • What's the responsibility of search engines, like Google, in indexing and promoting that content. As they seem to have a 'contact the webmaster' approach to it, is it possible to get the content (at the minimum the inacurate one) removed from their index?
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    "data they claim was 'public', but I see that this is not really true": what sort of data do you have in mind? A lot of information that people think is private is actually public. For example, home ownership records are public in at least some of the US, and they can include the size of the mortgage, if there is one. Court dockets can be public, including the names of criminal defendants. – phoog Apr 22 at 14:48
  • One example is an unlisted phone number, so it had to be purchased somewhere, similarly an address is listed while it was never under my name but rented by a business and my name was never on the contract. But also a few wrong information. I have quite a unique name yet some sites have the wrong age, wrong family ties, etc. Overall 2/3 is accurate and 1/3 is really not. – Thomas Apr 22 at 14:52
  • @Thomas The company would have to provide you with information for their basic transparency requirements: “from which source the personal data originate, and if applicable, whether it came from publicly accessible sources” (Art 14(2)(f)). Furthermore for access requests per Art 15(1)(g): “where the data is not collected from the data subject, any available information as to their source”. It's debatable whether the sources must identifiable or if classes of sources are sufficient here. – amon Apr 22 at 15:03
  • @amon, that’s very good to know; thanks! – Thomas Apr 22 at 15:09
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The GDPR applies to such sites if they offer services in the EU/EEA. If they clearly wanted to avoid being subject to the GDPR, they should block visitors from the EEA. For the GDPR, only location matters. Other concerns like residence or citizenship are generally irrelevant.

Personal data does not turn non-personal just because it was public. So the GDPR still applies when the data was collected from public sources. However, the data controller (who determines the purpose of processing) often has to balance your rights and interests against other interests (e.g. when using legitimate interest as a legal basis for some processing). For the purpose of publicly displaying your data, only showing data that was already public anyway makes it easier to argue that this is fine.

But when the GDPR applies, you have data subject rights. Relevant rights include:

  • a right to access, to see all the data they have about you
  • a right to rectification, to correct wrong data they hold about you
  • a right to restriction, effectively an opt-out
  • a right to erasure (also known as the right to be forgotten)

These rights apply both against the website and against Google Search (arguably, both are doing the exact same thing). Google correctly points out that they can't remove information from the Web, but they can hide information from search results.

If you feel that your requests have not been resolved correctly, you can issue a complaint with your country's data protection authority. In theory you can also sue them. In practice, GDPR enforcement against overseas data controllers can be quite difficult and has not yet happened.

  • "For the GDPR, only location matters. Other concerns like residence or citizenship are generally irrelevant." I remember reading otherwise. Can you back up this claim with sources? – Ave Apr 22 at 13:14
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    @Ave this is a very common misconception about the GDPR. But the EU cannot make extraterritorial laws, so Art 3 “Territorial Scope” limits the applicability to cases where the data controller is in the EU, or where the data controller offers services in the EU, or where the data controller observes behaviour of data subjects who are currently in the EU. But e.g. a EU citizen visiting the US is not protected by the GDPR. – amon Apr 22 at 13:18
  • "An EU citizen visiting the US" is conceivably "in" the EU for the purpose of GDPR protection if he or she maintains a residence there. The protection surely does not evaporate for a week or a month for EU residents when they leave the EU for short-term travel elsewhere. An EU citizen residing in the US is less likely to be "in" the EU under the meaning of the GDPR, of course, and one who has never been to any EU territory even less likely still. – phoog Apr 22 at 14:43
  • @phoog These apparent contradictions disappear when you look at individual subject–controller relationships separately. E.g. if I visit the US and check into a hotel then that hotel is not bound by the GDPR. But while in the EU I opened a Facebook account and now want to close it. While I used FB the relationship between me and FB was clearly subject to the GDPR. But can I exercise my data subject rights while physically in the US? I'd argue yes, I do have GDPR rights for data that was collected/processed under the GDPR. But I can't do squat about new data collection while not in the EU – amon Apr 22 at 14:56
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    Facebook is perhaps not a great example, since it has offices in the EU, but the point is well taken nonetheless. But the question of GDPR rights for covered data subjects with regard to controllers who otherwise would not be covered is probably fairly academic anyway, regardless of where the subject is at the moment of data collection, because, as you note, there is unlikely to be a way to enforce the GDPR against a company that has no presence in the EU. – phoog Apr 22 at 15:04

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