Have you just found that your personal information is available somewhere online you don’t want it to be?
You’re not alone.
Today an alarming amount of personal information can be found online of virtually any US citizen. Even if you’ve never willingly shared anything, other personal information such as your phone number, current and previous addresses, names of your relatives, your property value, and marital status can still be found publicly online.
How could this be and how to remove it?
This guide will show you different ways your information can end up online and provides instructions on how to remove your personal information from the internet.
Here’s the content of this guide:
–How does your information end up on the internet
–Why removing information from internet is important
–Types of sensitive data you should remove from the internet
–How to remove personal information from internet
Let’s get started by digging deeper on how your information can end up on the internet in the first place.
How does your information end up on the internet
From careless posts in social media to a data breach- there are many ways your information can end up online. Here are some common examples:
Public Social Media posts
Often you are your own worst enemy when it comes to compromising your personal information. If you’ve publicly shared your phone number or email address on social media or sold your old couch on a forum like Craigslist happily sharing all your contact information – it shouldn’t come to you as a surprise that your information ends up available for everyone.
Nothing free is free
Another (but a much sneakier way) when you might be giving any other personal information away yourself is forgetting that nothing “free” is actually free. For example every time you log into free wifi or download a free app or a resource – do you actually take the time to read through all the terms and conditions? You probably don’t. And that’s how they get you! As you tick the box, you usually give away rights to sell your data.
Data brokers collect and sell your information
But what about the information like your property value and names of your relatives that you swear you’ve never shared online yourself?
Enter the stage data brokers.
Data brokers are corporations that collect vast amounts of personal data on consumers by crawling different online sources and public records. Not only do these corporations have a frightening amount of information about you, they also publish it online and share it with anyone who is willing to pay. The more data brokers can collect information about you, the more profit they can make. With that being said, you can remove your information from their platforms.
Data Breaches compromise your data
A data breach happens when information is stolen or taken from a company’s database without the authorization. Every time that a company that you’ve done business with in the past gets breached, the information that you’ve shared with them gets compromised and often ends up being sold and shared online.
Why removing information from internet is important
It’s not just uncomfortable that anyone on the internet can access your personally identifiable information (PII) such as your address, your phone number and your birthday – it also creates a huge amount of risk. These are some of the common things that can happen if your PII is available online.
Not only does your inbox get filled with unwanted marketing material and day interrupted by several spam calls – you also might fail to recognize a fraud attempt and get your money or identity stolen. Dealing with the aftermath of this can be a costly and extremely stressful process, and it can take a long time for the impact of this to be resolved.
Therefore, it’s important to minimize these risks by removing your personal information from the internet.
Types of sensitive information you should remove from the internet
The less data there is available about you, the better. However, some information can be more sensitive than others. After all – a fraudster can do a lot more damage knowing your social security number than your marital status. The most sensitive information you should remove from the internet is your personally identifiable information (PII). Here are some examples of PII:
- Full name
- Home address
- Email address
- Social security number (SSN)
- Passport number
- Driver’s license number
- Credit card numbers
- Date of birth
- Phone number
- Owned properties like vehicle identification number (VIN)
- Login details
How to remove your information from the internet
Removing your information from the internet is an important step towards protecting your digital privacy and minimizing the risk of your data ending up in the wrong hands.
Follow these step-by-step instructions on how to delete your personal information from the internet effectively:
1. Contact site owners directly
The most logical place to start removing your information from the internet is to first find out what already exists. Try searching for your name, your email address, your home address and your phone number in Google and see what comes up. Then repeat the same process with other search engines like Bing and Yahoo.
Make a list of all websites where you find your name or other personal data mentioned. Then send the site owner a request to remove your information. To find out who to contact, you can either look for the contact details provided on the website or search for them using the whois.com tool.
If your sensitive information (such as your bank details or SSN) is available on a site and for some reason the site owner refuses your request or doesn’t respond, you can ask Google to help. All you need to do is fill out this request to remove your personal information. Google doesn’t have the authority to remove your information from the website directly but they can stop it from appearing in the search results.
2. Update outdated search results from Google
Once your information has been taken off the website it still takes some time until the page gets removed from the results. This happens because the old information is still cached on Google’s servers.
You can remove your personal information from Google quicker by using the Remove outdated content tool from Google. It allows you to request for an update to its servers. Sending the request is simple: just click “New request”, enter the URL that needs to be updated, enter the required information and submit your request.
3. Delete your social media accounts
If you’re very active on social media, deleting all your accounts can seem drastic. However, it’s a necessary step if you really want to remove your personal information from the internet.
Make sure you delete your current accounts as well as your old accounts that you might have not used in a long time (Do you know if your old Myspace account still exists?).
When you log into each platform, choose to delete your account instead of deactivating it. By deleting all the content along with your profile, you’ll minimize the risk of someone accessing your personal information.
If you can’t bring yourself to delete all your social media accounts, then the next best option is to delete as many as possible. The ones you really can’t live without – consider using a nickname instead of your full name and avoid giving out any sensitive information. We also recommend using masked email on all your social accounts.
4. Delete any comments on forums or blogs
Start with deleting all profiles you may have created on sites like Reddit, Yahoo, Quora etc. – just like you did with your other social media accounts. This doesn’t usually delete the actual comments you’ve made, but removes your name from them.
However, if you’ve shared sensitive information in the actual comments, or left comments without creating a profile that could be deleted, you also need to get rid of these. Unfortunately, the only way you can do this is to find the specific comments and ask the site owner to remove them individually.
5. Remove yourself from data broker sites
Because data brokers are one of the main reasons why your personal information ends up on the web in the first place, removing yourself from their databases is essential.
In order to do that, you need to delete your profile from each individual database. You can do this by using our free DIY opt-out guides. The removal process is quite simple (apart from a few exceptions) but it can be very time-consuming as there are so many different data broker sites.
Unfortunately, when it comes to data brokers, there’s no such thing as “remove permanently”. Even if you succeed in deleting your profile from all of these sites, data brokers are notorious for relisting your information. Therefore, in order to keep your personal information safe, you need to monitor these sites every few months and repeat the removal process whenever you see your information is listed again.
If you want to keep your information safe but don’t have enough time to do this process yourself, you can join DeleteMe and let us do it for you.
6. Delete your shopping accounts
You’ve probably noticed how many e-commerce sites offer you the option to register or create an account before making a purchase. It might seem convenient to have your data saved but it often comes with a price – your privacy. Having your information saved on several different databases increases the risk of having your information sold by the companies or getting it compromised in a data breach.
Therefore, you should delete all your online shopping accounts. Usually this is quite simple: just Google the ecommerce site + “delete account” and you should find the information on how to do it. However, if you can’t find the option to delete your profile on a particular site, you can always message customer service and request that they delete your profile.
But what about those beautiful fluffy slippers that you were just about to order? Don’t worry. Most e-commerce sites still allow you to complete purchases without having an account. You can use masked email and masked cards to protect your PII and continue shopping safely.
7. Check your apps
->Go to settings
->Click tracking and disable “Allow Apps to Request to Track”
Additionally, you should delete all apps that you no longer need. Best way to do this is to contact the app directly and ask them to remove your information.
8. Browse safely
You know the cookie banners that pop up as you land on a website?
This is where you can decide which trackers will be activated during your visit.
It’s usually tempting to click “allow” just to get rid of the pop-up but you should think twice next time when this banner appears.
If you approve, you often agree to let them share your activity with third parties which means that all your browsing can be tracked from one site to another. Usually this is done for marketing and advertising purposes but it’s also possible that hackers can insert a malicious cookie that can compromise your personal information.
We recommend blocking all third-party cookies and using privacy focused browsers like DuckDuckGo that prevent third parties from tracking you.
Now you should have a better idea on how to remove your personal information from the internet and how it ends up there in the first place.
Even though it can be frustrating to see your personal information shared somewhere you don’t want it to be, luckily there are many ways you can try to remove it. However, even if you were able to clear your name from the search results, there are many data traps that you might fall into again and end up having your information appear again online.
Therefore, the only way to remove your information from the internet securely is to be careful what information you share online as well as continuously monitor the search results and data broker sites to make sure that your information doesn’t reappear.