When was the last time you Googled your name? You should try it.
The first results page typically consists of the usual stuff – your social media accounts, comments you’ve made, etc. But as you scroll down, you’ll begin to see unfamiliar results. Websites you’ve never seen or visited before. It makes you wonder.
Did someone else upload it? Or did you subscribe to a service and forget about it? There are countless ways your name can turn up in strange places on the internet.
Regardless of the how, it’s dangerous to leave so many personal details out in the open. You never know who’s keeping track and for what purpose. For all you know, someone’s already committing a crime using your identity.
Table of Contents
- Deactivate idle email accounts
- Go through any old websites and personal blogs
- Erase your data from outdated pages and server caches
- Tighten privacy on your social media accounts
- Uninstall inactive apps from all your devices
- Think twice before accepting cookies
- Use a secure browser
- Opt out of data brokers and people search pages
Thankfully, there are ways to keep your digital footprint in check. In this blog, you will learn how to remove personal information from the internet and get more control over your privacy online.
What Kinds of Personal Information is Out There?
Every time you log in, create an account, connect your credit/debit card, or pay for a service online, you hand out a piece of your identity.
The problem is the information you share doesn’t stay in one place. It can get discreetly copied and passed around between data brokers and advertisers.
Below are some of your personal information that might already be up for grabs on the internet right now:
- Full name
Including your mother’s maiden name, which is a standard answer to security questions.
E.g. house, business, school, office, and billing.
- ID details
E.g. social security, company ID, passport, and tax ID.
- Contact information
E.g. landline, mobile number, online messaging app, and email address.
- Login details
E.g. username, password, and verification code.
- Bank details
E.g. account name and number, digital signature, and online banking login information.
E.g. health insurance and retirement plan.
E.g. trading platform login details and digital wallets.
- Photos and videos
E.g. yours and your loved one.
Why Get Your Personal Information Off the Internet?
We all know that having a massive digital footprint is dangerous. Yet some people still think hackers aren’t interested in their personal information. The truth is, once someone with an evil motive gets a hold of your details, they will find a use for them no matter how insignificant you think you are.
Here are just a few things that they could do with your personal information:
- Doxxing (maliciously ‘outing’ your most personal details on the internet – leaving you vulnerable to stalkers and harassment)
- Steal your money (use your credit card or wipe out your savings)
- Frame you for a crime
- Blackmail you
- Submit fake surveys or studies
- Sell your personal information to businesses for marketing purposes
You can reduce the chances of falling prey to these crimes by keeping out of sight. Removing your personal information from the internet is a great way to start.
8 Ways to Remove Personal Information From the Internet
It’s near impossible to erase your online presence completely. And you shouldn’t, especially if you need the internet for your job or business.
But you CAN remove personal information from compromised websites to limit your visibility. Here are 8 ways how.
1. Deactivate idle email accounts
Whenever you create an account on social media, a forum, or a provider website, you are asked to provide an email address to verify your legitimacy. Some use a single email address for all their accounts, while others use a different one for each account.
Many of those who use multiple email addresses may later realize that it’s not the most practical method for managing online accounts. They may then abandon most of their emails and keep only one or two active, which leaves them with a hoard of inactive email accounts, most of which they forget about after a few months.
The thing about email accounts is they remain useful to data brokers even if they are inactive because they still contain valuable information. For your own protection, close all your inactive email accounts before cybercriminals siphon off your personal information from them.
Only deactivate your email once you’ve updated all external accounts linked to it (social media, forums, ecommerce, and software programs). This way, you won’t lose access to those accounts when you’re ready to close them, too.
2. Go through any old websites and personal blogs
Do you have an old personal blog site or a business website? It’s likely that you’ve included some of your personal information in your content which is still up for public viewing.
Delete or edit any unwanted blog posts that might describe your personal information. Avoid topics that compel you to reveal sensitive information, such as your home address, travel plans, or even your kids’ school.
As for your business website, it can be slightly tricky because removing personal information means you are getting rid of means your prospects can contact you. However, business details are not actually the ones you need to remove, but your personal information unnecessarily posted or mentioned on your website. This is why it’s important to separate your personal life from your business.
Give out an official business phone number instead of your personal phone number. Even in your business card, only mention business contact details. Consider reviewing your Our Team page to check its not revealing too much about you and your crew. That way, you are protecting your employees’ personal information as well.
3. Erase your data from outdated pages and server caches
Before leaving your job and working elsewhere, ask your previous company to delete all of your personal information from their database. Business websites often attract all kinds of visitors, from companies looking for partnerships to fresh graduates hunting for jobs. This exposes your personal information to possible theft or misuse.
If, for some reason, your data remains searchable even after an update was made, it means the old version of the page where they were supposed to have been removed still exists. Only Google can remove it by clearing its cache. Try to contact them and ask to clear their cache.
4. Tighten privacy on your social media accounts
Social media is the one place on the entire World Wide Web where people happily surrender all of their personal information – from their flight tickets, to work and home physical locations to multimedia files and credit card details. They might even share sensitive information when asked to.
It’s no wonder cybercriminals love to hang out on websites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. They don’t have to scan long texts or crack encrypted pages to steal vital information from the members. They simply have to look into their profiles to get what they want.
Getting out of social media may seem like a depressing move, but this is key to regaining your long-exposed privacy. However, before deactivating, save a copy of all essential files and data you shared through social media. You don’t want them to disappear along with your accounts.
In case you can’t completely abandon social media just yet, there are still simple ways to bolster your privacy. For instance, you can set your profiles to private, avoid geo-tagging your photos and videos, and refrain from posting information that gives people clues to your address or workplace such as landmarks and brand logos. Keeping a low profile keeps you out of data collectors’ sight.
5. Uninstall inactive or useless apps from all your devices
An average person has around 40 apps on their smartphone, but use less than half of them. The rest are either inactive or running hot in the background. Most modern apps are equipped with data-collection and location-tracking capabilities. These features usually stay on even if you’re not using the apps.
Consider uninstalling apps that are not useful. This will release some space from your device’s storage, improving its performance. Then, check each remaining app’s privacy setting to determine which ones are collecting your personal data. Figure out how you can opt out of any agreement to be tracked, or you can uninstall those apps as well.
6. Think twice before accepting cookies
Websites want to know what kind of advertisements work on you. The only way for them to achieve that is to collect your personal information and track you. But they can’t do that without your permission. That’s a violation of basic internet privacy laws. What they do instead is offer to improve your user experience in exchange for your consent.
When you open a website, you’ll sometimes be greeted with a popup message asking you to accept all cookies. By doing so, you allow the website to collect your personal data and do whatever they want with it. Of course, you can choose not to accept cookies at the expense of user experience.
Be careful when accepting cookies. Only accept cookies from trusted websites and ensure that those cookies are not invasive. Additionally, check if your browser has a do-not-track feature. If it doesn’t, consider installing separate security software that blocks online tracking. It works the same way as an ad blocker.
7. Use a secure browser
What browser are you using? Is it a secure one? Many popular browsers collect tons of user data via multiple channels, including login information and browsing history. Even if you browse in incognito mode using these browsers, the websites you visit can still find you through your computer’s IP address.
8. Opt out of data brokers and people search pages
We’ve mentioned data brokers a few times, but what are they exactly?
They’re typically individuals or companies that collect personal information from websites and apps you visit so they can sell/license them to third parties. You can reduce the chances of them grabbing your data by simply removing your personal information from places they can access.
How about people search pages? Also called “people search engines” or “people finders,” these are websites where you can search for people using bits of their personal information.
You can opt out of these websites by requesting them via email to remove your personal information from their database, or applying on their opt-out pages (if they have one).
Be warned – there are tons of these data collectors on the internet, so erasing your personal information can be tedious. A good alternative is to hire a data privacy service, like Incogni – the same guys who created Surfshark VPN. Incogni can remove all of your data from public domains and request data brokers to remove your data from their private databases on your behalf.
How Does Your Personal Information Get On the Internet, Anyway?
It’s not always obvious how your personal information can end up on the internet.
You may have uploaded it yourself–by filling out a form to join a website, subscribe to a service, or download a freebie. You may have been caught out by a dirty email spoofing or URL phishing scheme.
It’s more likely, however, that someone else with your data uploaded it.
I suppose the question you should be asking is how strangers manage to collect your personal information and pass it around without your knowledge or consent.
Unfortunately, there are a huge variety of sources where data can come from, and it can be very murky to trace back the specifics. Many data brokers scrape public or government records, but your personal information could easily have come from the data mining by advertising networks and other third parties.
Not to mention how common data breaches are these days; when unauthorized individuals break into a database, steal data, and sell it to businesses as data brokers do. Some of the data they’ve stolen even end up on the black market.
Wrap Up: Privacy is a Process!
The internet is not as safe as you were probably led to believe. Once you put out your personal information online, you give cybercriminals a chance to use it to do bad things. You can bolster your privacy and protect yourself from malicious activities by following the tips above.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to your privacy issues. It’s a tedious process that takes the willingness to give up on digital opportunities to perform seamlessly, but thankfully there are some tools out there to help!