—TechRound does not recommend or endorse any specific data practices. All articles are purely informational—
Back in the day, common criminals made a living stealing jewels from window displays. Nowadays, your personal information is the precious gem they’re after. 422 million people were affected by data breaches in 2022, and the number of breaches is steadily growing. Having your data on the internet is risky.
Removing your personal information from the internet isn’t easy, either. It can be complicated and requires continued effort, but if you follow the steps, it’s manageable.
For detailed, step-by-step instructions, continue reading the article. Here’s the TL;DR version:
- Manually remove your personal information from people search sites and data brokers or use a data removal service like Incogni.
- Delete any unused social media accounts and adjust your privacy settings on those you keep.
- Remove stored data from Google through the activity controls page and fill out Google’s data removal request and image removal request forms.
- Remove your personal information from websites that publish it to get your data off search engine results pages.
- Delete unused accounts such as emails, social media, online shopping accounts, and personal blogs.
- Delete apps you don’t need and adjust the privacy settings on those you keep.
Why It’s Important To Remove Your Personal Information From The Internet
A digital footprint refers to the data you leave behind each time you use the internet. That includes all of your online activity—emails you send, forms you fill out, searches you make, and websites you visit. That information is unique and traceable.
Your digital footprint can include:
- Browsing history
- Shopping habits
- Social Security numbers
- Financial information
- Health information
- Employment history
- Education history
- Court records
- Political affiliations
- Sexual orientation
Aside from obvious threats like identity theft, scams, online harassment, stalking, blackmail, and extortion (not to mention nuisances like robocalls and spam messages), your personal information can also be used in some unexpected ways.
- Insurance companies can use your health data to set your rates
- Credit card companies and banks can use your financial information to deny loans
- Websites can use your browsing habits to keep you on their site longer
- Potential employers or landlords can use information such as religious and political beliefs, sexual orientation, income, and more to discriminate against you
- Political parties can use your data to influence your beliefs
With how invaluable personal data can be, it’s no wonder it’s referred to as the “new oil” of the digital economy. This means that more people are after your data than you might think, from cybercriminals that try to steal it to legitimate organisations that buy data in bulk.
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How Does Your Personal Information Get On The Internet?
A lot of the personal information you’re trying to remove from the internet may have been put there by you in the first place. Unknowingly, in some cases.
This happens naturally, as a side effect of using the internet. If you want to set up an online shopping account, you have to give up your address, email, and phone number, at the very least. If you want to read that latest news article, you have to agree to their cookies policy and allow them to collect your data. And if you use social media, that one needs no further explanation.
This is the trade-off you make in exchange for the conveniences that come with the World Wide Web. What many users don’t know, however, is what happens to the data you give up. It’s usually tucked away, in fine print, hidden behind a bunch of legalese in long, and (probably deliberately) dense privacy policies.
In fact, according to a survey conducted by Pew Research, only 1 in 5 Americans say they always or often read privacy policies. Of those, only around 1 in 10 read them all the way through and 1 in 10 fully understand the privacy policies.
What a lot of consumers simply don’t read or catch is that most of the companies you share your data with online pass that data along to third parties like marketers and data brokers.
Some of the most common places you may be sharing your personal information include your:
- Google account
- Social media profiles
- Email accounts
- Dating sites
- Online shopping accounts
- Shopping loyalty programs
- Personal websites
How Data Brokers Make It Difficult To Remove Your Personal Information From The Internet
Once even a scrap of your personal information ends up on the internet, it becomes difficult to take down. You might remove it from the source, whether that’s your old social media profile or your Google account, but that doesn’t remove it from the Internet, at large. The lion’s share of the credit for this goes to data brokers.
Data brokers make it their business to collect, sell, and trade data. They buy it in bulk from businesses and other data brokers and scrape the web for any public scraps they can find. Your address from your latest online shopping spree, interests and ideologies from social media, and online activity from your browser or search engine. They then compile this data into easy-to-digest profiles that they sell to marketers, individuals, other data brokers, and sometimes straight to cybercriminals.
Data brokers form intricate webs along which your personal information is spread far and wide on the internet. These companies keep your data in circulation.
How To Remove Your Personal Information From The Internet
Remove Your Personal Information From Data Brokers And People Search Sites
We already explained above how data brokers make it difficult to get your personal information off the internet. Thankfully, there’s a solution to that. Depending on where you live, you may have the legal right to make data brokers and people search sites stop collecting and selling your personal information.
It all depends on whether your area is protected by data privacy laws. While countries in the EU have the GDPR, the UK has the UK GDPR, and Canada PIPEDA, the US has no Federal comprehensive data privacy law. Instead, some states have individual laws and regulations. You should check your local legislature to see if you are protected. Even if you aren’t, we still recommend following these instructions as some data brokers may not check where you are from, or honor your request regardless.
Remove your personal information from data brokers:
- Research which data brokers are active in your area. You won’t be able to confirm whether or not they have your data, but you should operate under the assumption that they do
- Visit the website of each data broker and find the “opt-out” or “remove my personal information” page and follow the procedures outlined (usually an online form)
- Repeat the process every few months as most data brokers refresh their databases frequently and may add new data belonging to you
Remove your personal information from people search sites:
- Google your name, phone number, or address
- Browse the search results for people search sites. You will recognise them as they list basic data points such as your name, age, and address
- Visit each people search site that comes up, find the “opt-out” or “remove my personal information” page, and follow the procedures, as with the data brokers
- Check the people search sites periodically and start the opt-out processes again, as needed
Keep your personal information off data broker and people search sites automatically.
Instead of spending hundreds of hours on manual data removal, you can opt for an automated personal information removal service like Incogni. They handle every step of the process on your behalf, keeping your personal information out of circulation with no hassle and no stress. Right now you can use code [discount code] to get 55% off a 1-year subscription for Black Friday.
Delete social media profiles you don’t need and optimise the privacy settings on those you keep
This one may be painful, but if you want to remove your personal information from the internet, you’ll have to cut down on social media. However, we understand that in this day and age, going cold turkey and deleting all of your social media is all but impossible.
What you can do instead, as a compromise, is delete all of your unused social media profiles. You should also carefully reconsider those you’re using right now. Take some time to check the privacy policies for their data-sharing practices and weigh that against the benefits of the platform.
Important note: Deleting your social media profile doesn’t mean they won’t keep your data. Make sure to request data removal before closing the account.
Once you’ve settled on a (hopefully small) list of social media accounts you want to keep, go through the settings and optimise them for maximum privacy.
Remove Your Personal Information From Google
Google probably has the biggest collection of your data in one place. You can ask Google to delete your stored data and stop tracking your location and online activity, however. Visit the activity controls page in your Google account to adjust these privacy settings.
Once you’ve done that, you can clean up Google’s search results by filling out their data removal request form and image removal request form.
Remove Your Personal Information From Websites And Other Search Engines
Unfortunately, removing your information from Google’s search results pages won’t remove the information from the website where that information is published. And it won’t keep them from popping up on other search engines.
You can’t request data removal from most other search engines, however, you can contact the webmaster of each site that displays your personal information and request removal directly.
Delete Unused Online Accounts
You may have (hopefully) deleted unused social media profiles, but there are likely tons of other long-forgotten online accounts that collect dust and likely continue to share your data. Request each one to delete your data and close the accounts. These may include old emails, online shopping accounts, and personal blogs.
If you don’t remember what online accounts you may have opened, check your email inbox for welcome messages. Search for keywords like “welcome”, “thank you for joining”, and “get started”.
Delete Apps You Don’t Need And Optimise The Privacy Settings On Those You Keep
How many apps do you have on your phone? Every single one is likely sharing your data right now. As with social media, asking you to stop using apps altogether is unrealistic. But if we must use them, we can at least take precautions.
- Delete any apps you don’t use or think you can easily live without
- Visit the data safety section of each app you decide to keep to check their data-sharing practices. If you aren’t comfortable with the data they share or collect, delete the app
- Check your app settings for the permissions they request. If you find anything suspicious, such as a calculator app tracking your precise location, delete it
- While in your phone settings, adjust the permissions for each app you decide to keep
- Where possible, access and adjust the settings inside each app to optimise your privacy
Don’t Give Up On Your Data Privacy
If all of this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. Data privacy requires ongoing monitoring and maintenance. But don’t give up. Consistency can make your job a lot easier.
Keep an eye on privacy policies for changes so you can adjust privacy settings or discontinue subscriptions before your data is compromised. Remove your information from data brokers regularly to prevent it from spreading further and requiring more time and effort to clean up.
It may be tedious but the privacy, increased security, and peace of mind that comes with keeping your personal information off the internet is well worth it.
—TechRound does not recommend or endorse any specific data practices. All articles are purely informational—