You don’t need to be a social media influencer or a blogger for your personal information to appear online—simply browsing the web leaves a data trace behind you.
That being said, if you’re someone who wants to know how to better protect their digital privacy, knowing how to hide your identity online is imperative.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to conceal your identity online in just a few simple steps.
Why hiding your identity online is important
The more of your information that’s readily available on the Internet, the more vulnerable you become to nuisances like spam calls or junk mail, and threats like identity theft, scams, cyberstalking, online blackmail, doxxing, or data breaches.
So, if all your personal details are found on every popular social media platform there is, it requires very little of a fraudster to make you an easy target for increasingly sophisticated cybercrimes and scams.
While you do have some control over your security in some cases—not clicking a suspicious link in a spam text sent to your phone, for example—in others, like a big company data breach, there’s not much you can do. Once the information gets out, it’s out.
Therefore, the more online information about yourself you can hide, the safer you are.
The information of yours that can be found online
When it comes to your personal information online, it’s typically spread out across the Internet, with little pieces of data in lots of places. However, there are some specific places where it tends to accumulate more so than in others.
Below are places your information can be concentrated, along with what data is being collected.
Social media platforms
- Behavioral data – subscriptions, transaction information, cart abandonment, repeated actions, task completion, devices used, time on site, time on app
- Engagement data – website and app interactions, website visits, most viewed pages, likes, shares, replies, email engagement, customer service interactions, ad engagement
- Personal information – full name, location (including country, state, city, zip code, or exact physical address), email, login details, date of birth, gender, race, ethnicity, employment history, credit card details
Online shopping sites
- Personal data – social security number, gender, IP address, web browser cookies, device IDs
- Engagement data – website and app interactions, most viewed pages, email engagement, customer service interactions, ad engagement
- Behavioral data – transaction information, cart abandonment, repeated actions, task completion, devices used, time on site, time on app
- Attitudinal data – consumer satisfaction metrics, purchase criteria, product desirability
- Personal information – name, phone number, address (including current and previous addresses), email, age, religion, ethnicity, marital status, political party, number of children, names of relatives, household interest, criminal background, medical history, sexual orientation, property value
- Behavioral data – consumer behavior, browsing history
Google and other search engines
- Personal information – name, gender, birthdate, phone numbers, address, workplace, hobbies, interests
- Behavioral data – recent searches, websites visited, videos watched, exact location (for the last several years)
- Search results – mentions or images of you on any indexed websites
5 steps to take right now to “hide” yourself on the Internet
Simply keeping your personal information private is the first major step towards minimizing the risk of your data being compromised. Here are a few steps you can take to do it.
1. Clean up your social media
A first easy step to hiding your identity online is to delete any current social media accounts as well as your old accounts that are no longer being used.
When you log onto each platform, make sure to choose to “delete” your account instead of merely “deactivating” it. By deleting the content attached to your profile, you minimize the risk of someone accessing your personal information.
For any social media platform you truly can’t live without, consider using a nickname instead of your real name, avoid giving out any personal information when registering, and set your profile to “private”—don’t allow other users to tag you.
Lastly, make sure to carefully go through your privacy settings to disable location tracking for all social media apps on all your devices.
2. Remove Google search results
This can be a bit complicated, so, for starters, simply Google your name and make a list of every site your name or other personal information is referenced.
Next, send every site owner or operator a polite request to remove that information. If you’re unsure how to make contact, you can either look for the contact details provided on the website itself, or search for the site owner using the database at Whois.com.
If sensitive information (such as social security number or bank details) is available on a particular site and the site owner refuses your removal request, or simply doesn’t respond, ask Google for help. Fill out this information removal request form and send it in.
Although Google doesn’t have the authority to remove your information from the site directly, they can stop it from appearing in search results.
If none of these are successful, you can try to hide certain results by forcing negative content down the search algorithm to overshadow the content you don’t want others to find.
3. Use a VPN and private browsers
A virtual private network (VPN) reroutes your IP address and disguises and encrypts your browsing traffic while you surf the web. It’s a great way to prevent anyone from tracking your behavioral or engagement data.
While there are plenty of free VPNs to choose from, always make sure to carefully read privacy policies and customer reviews so you can be confident your VPN provider doesn’t sell your information in exchange for free software.
Also, we recommend using a privacy focused browser like DuckDuckGo to prevent third-party tracking. Private browsers automatically erase browsing history, search history, and cookies. A private browser also limits web tracking, making it harder for websites to keep tabs on you.
4. Protect your email, phone number, and address details
A good rule of thumb is to never share your email, phone number, or address with anyone online, aside from a few exceptions.
For example, when online banking, adding a phone number to enable two-factor authentication to your account can create an extra layer of security, so in this case it’s a good idea.
But, when online shopping or signing up for free platforms, it’s a different matter altogether.
In these cases, we recommend using prepaid phone numbers not connected to your name, temporary email addresses (or a separate email address for just these purposes), or using privacy focused email providers such as ProtonMail.
5. Remove your information from data-broker sites
Data brokers collect and amass consumer personal data from various online sources, such as public records, social media, and browsing histories, and sell it off for big profits.
There are over 500 data brokers operating in the U.S. alone, spreading your information around the web to the highest bidders. While what they do is legal, it is one of the main reasons why your personal information ends up compromised and published online.
Therefore, removing yourself from each of these databases is an essential step to reinforcing your Internet privacy. To do this, you can either go through the process on your own using our free DIY opt-out guides, or sign up for our service at DeleteMe and we can do it all for you.
Taking control of your online security
With a better idea about the kind of information that’s collected about you online, and where it’s collected from, perhaps it provides you with a clearer understanding of some of the dangers that exist when you don’t take your online security seriously.
Be smart about what you share online, remove sensitive information from social media, Google, and data-broker sites, and use a VPN and private browsers at all times. Then, you too will be able to keep your information safe and protect your online privacy.
You can now directly request personal information to be removed from Google. To request the content removal you just need to answer a few questions and provide necessary evidence by filling out Google’s Content Removal Request.