Surfshark Incogni Review | PCMag
Maybe you’re good at protecting your privacy online. You do not disclose any personal information beyond what is necessary. You can even provide lies and misinformation if a site asks for personal information that isn’t relevant to your interaction. Yet chunks of information like your name, address, and phone number show up on legitimate websites, and data aggregator sites gleefully collect those traces, assembling them into personal profiles they can sell. or monetize in some other way. It is legal. But the law also requires them to to delete your data if you request it. Incogni, from well-known VPN and security provider Surfshark, wants to be your privacy partner, helping you request data removal from dozens of aggregator websites. However, unlike similar services, Incogni does not directly check whether the brokers had your information in the first place, or whether they deleted it.
How much does Incogni cost?
You can purchase a month of Incogni protection for $7.99. My company contact pointed out that brokers have 30-45 days to respond to a deletion request, but Incogni will complete its first round of account deletions even if your month ends without renewal. Opting for an annual subscription cuts the price in half, to $3.99 per month, paid as an annual fee of $47.88. Maintaining your subscription means that the service will continue to monitor broker responses and periodically reissue its deletion requests.
The Kanary costs a bit more, at $9.99 per month and $89.99 per year. Increasing your annual payment to $129.99 allows you to extend privacy protection to your family, up to six people.
Abine’s DeleteMe was the first such service I came across, predating many competitors. DeleteMe protection for an individual costs about the same as The Kanary for a family, $129 per year. The company notes that the high use of human agents for complete elimination is the reason for the higher price. You can protect yourself and a partner for $229 per year or opt for a DeleteMe family license (four people) at $329 per year.
IDX Privacy is a full suite of privacy tools – its Forget Me component is the parallel part to Incogni. This suite also includes dark web monitoring, identity theft remediation, a full-fledged virtual private network (VPN), and much more. You get all of this for $9.95 per month or $79.95 per year.
Avast BreachGuard is focused on reporting any occurrence of your personal information in data breaches. However, its Personal Info Remover component can send data deletion requests to a dozen data brokers. Like Incogni, it does not confirm the presence of your data on broker sites. It just asks for deletion. At $39.99 per year, it’s cheaper than others, but it also does less to clear your data from broker sites.
Incogni costs less than anything but the Avast product, even at the monthly subscription level. And the availability of its one-month subscription means you can try it out without risking too much money.
Get started with Incogni
Integration with Incogni is quite simple. You create an account with your email and a password. You enter your full name and address, which Incogni says is necessary for data deletion requests. Then you grant Incogni a (very) limited power of attorney to make these requests on your behalf. Choose a monthly or yearly plan and you’re good to go.
You interact with Incogni through a simple online dashboard. Right after registration, you will see the number of brokers Incogni works with (currently 76) and the expected number to receive deletion requests. Incogni uses an internal algorithm to decide which of these brokers may have your data and immediately initiates the removal request process. In my case, it sent requests to 58 out of 76.
Why limit the number of requests? Why not send an opt-out to each of them? I asked my contact at Surfshark and learned that choosing to ignore some is mostly based on your location. If a broker simply doesn’t collect data in your area, there’s no reason to ask for it to be removed. Additionally, avoiding sending unnecessary requests “means that other requests will be processed faster.”
Once this step is taken, you might as well put Incogni on the back burner for a while. As the company points out, brokers legally have 30-45 days to respond, and some of them are using all that time. During the process, you may receive emails from some brokers, although most email responses are sent directly to Surfshark. Just a day after signing up, I received one saying the broker had no information about me. These responses are counted as rejected on the dashboard. When a broker responds saying your data has been deleted, this counts towards the count of completed items.
Surfshark’s instructions state that these emails are normal, and if you find [email protected] in the list of recipients, you have nothing to do. If you receive a message without this connection, they advise you to reply stating that Surfshark is managing your deletion process, making sure to copy the Surfshark email address.
What did they know and when did they know it?
DeleteMe searches for your personal data on broker websites and generates periodic reports on its actions. For each broker, the report indicates that it is exempt from your data or sets out in detail what personal data is deleted. The Kanary reports each found instance of your personal information and notifies you when the deletion is complete. IDX Privacy’s Forget Me module works much the same way.
Incogni is totally different. It does not search your personal data; it simply sends a deletion request to brokers who seem likely to have your data. It doesn’t verify that they deleted the data, just flags broker responses as Rejected (meaning the broker didn’t have your data) or Done (meaning your data was deleted).
Knowing this, I wasn’t too surprised to find that Incogni’s list of brokers is completely different from the public list of brokers verified by DeleteMe and from a list I requested from IDX Privacy. Not a single company from Incogni’s list appeared in the other two. IDX Privacy and DeleteMe’s listings are full of outside aggregators like BeenVerified, Spokeo, and ZabaSearch, sites that let you search for information about anyone (or let anyone look you at the top).
Incogni works with brokers at a higher level. They have descriptions such as “Provides lead and call data for insurance companies”, “Offers direct marketing mailing lists for businesses” and “Pre-validated firmographic, technographic and social data in time impact on companies and their decision makers”.
Incogni assigns each broker a data sensitivity rating, ranging from one to five skulls. It also tags each with a category such as credit rating, marketing, or recruiting. Scrolling through the list, I didn’t see any marked with more than three skulls. My company contact confirmed that it would take a lot to get a rating of four or five skulls, saying “that would mean very sensitive information (SSN or equivalent, credit card information) being collected on a large scale”.
Getting removed from these personal data wholesalers is clearly a good thing, but erasing your data from people search sites is also beneficial. My Surfshark contact notes that the company is “currently working to expand our coverage of people search sites.”
The legal process for requesting deletion of personal data is built on a model of a person opting out of a data broker. It’s fine for individuals, but it doesn’t transition easily to an automated process. Services like Incogni and DeleteMe need to interact with each broker in their own way and monitor responses that differ between brokers. Surfshark belongs to a consortium working on a standardized protocol for such requests, called the Data Rights Protocol. Other contributors to the group include MIT, Consumer Reports and data broker Spokeo. We will see what will happen to this initiative.
Patience with Incogni
As mentioned, the process of deleting your data can be slow. After installing the products, asking my questions, and writing most of this review, I put Incogni aside and worked on other projects.
A week later, I came back and found that the score had reached nine completed deletions and one rejected. As stated, Rejected simply means that the broker responded stating that they do not have my personal information. Given that brokers can legally take 30-45 days to respond, it’s no surprise to see that 48 of the requests are still pending. You need patience with Incogni and any similar service.
does what it says
That’s it for Incogni. It acts as your proxy, sending data deletion requests without knowing if the brokers actually have your data. It then reports their responses without actively validating that your data has been deleted. To be fair, there are massive fines for mishandling such requests under GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act), enough to discourage any quibbling. But I really like the ability to empirically confirm the deletion, which means I can see that my data was there, and I can see that it’s not.
By signing up for Incogni, you will not be removed from PeopleFinder or WhitePages. Currently, this does not work with people search sites, although the company is planning to expand into this area. Conversely, Abine DeleteMe, IDX Privacy, and The Kanary have a strong focus on people search sites. If you really wish to opt out of aggregating and selling your data, you may consider subscribing to both Incogni and one of these other services.
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